By VINNIE RODI

CONCERNED Birdwoodton residents are calling for a proposed solar panel/renewable energy development to be relocated away from their neighbourhood, believing it will have a detrimental affect on the area.

However, the proponents behind the proposed photaic-cell solar power plant at Lot 2 McKays Road, Birdwoodton – Powervault Mildura – have disputed a number of the concerns raised, saying residents are simply misinformed on a number of issues.

Powervault Mildura CEO, Daniel Flynn, said an information session will be held tonight at the Merbein Football and Netball Club from 5pm to 7pm to meet with concerned residents, and discuss the proposal in detail.

The planning application to construct the solar power plant is currently on public display, with nearby residents notified by mail on April 27 regarding the development. The application was lodged with Mildura Rural City Council in late February, with no planning determination made at this stage, with Council planners currently seeking public comment on the proposal, including any objections.

The development will cover a 23-acre area if allowed to go ahead, with more than 24,000 solar panels – four metres long and 1.5 metres high each – to be installed on the site. A two-metre high fence will also be erected around the site, with CCTV and security lighting to be installed.

Residents are concerned about the “glare” that will be generated from the site once it is complete, and the increase in dust due to a lack of vegetation.

Mr Flynn, however, said that a four-metre high vegetation ‘screen’ will surround the solar farm to improve the visual amenity of the area and reduce dust.

“In regards to any glare, the vegetation will help with that, however the core technology behind a solar farm is designed to absorb light to create electricity, which means no glare,” he said. “We will have concept photos available at Friday’s drop-in session, while also being available to chat face-to-face with those concerned.

“A registration point, where people can opt in for updates on the development, will also be available, along with information about the positive environmental impacts of the development etc.”

Concerns have also been raised about the impact the development will have on the road, as residents believe it is not capable of handling the increased use required during construction.

Mr Flynn, however, said the development was on a smaller scale to other larger solar plants being constructed outside the district.

“When you look at the facility from a bird’s eye view, people envision it’s a huge job,” he said. “Construction will take three months to complete, with a couple of trucks needed to deliver material to the site in the week leading up.”

One concerned resident, Donna Strong, told the Mildura Weekly that many nearby residents planned to make their objections known to Council.

“It will have a detrimental impact on the landscape of our street,” she said. “There are families with young children who call our neighbourhood home.

“The visual impact on the surrounding neighbours will also be significant, as this development will be what most neighbours see when looking out their windows.”

Mrs Strong said concerned residents also felt that development would have a detrimental economic effect on the area, citing fears that property values could decline as a result.

Mr Flynn said local real estate experts Mark Thornton and Brian Erskine would also be present at Friday’s meeting to address those concerns.

“Our understanding is that this will be a positive for local real estate prices,” he said.

Mr Flynn said that should the development go ahead, ACELL International – the Australian-owned company that has bought and invested into the proposed generators – would allocate up to $175,000 to be injected back into the Merbein community.

“ACELL have proposed to establish a not-for-profit company whose steering committee will be made up of Merbein locals,” he said. “That committee will decide where best to spend this money to benefit the local community.”

Mr Flynn also confirmed that renewable energy generated by the plant would immediately feed back into the electricity grid.

“I welcome anyone with concerns to get in contact with me directly on 0402 557 272 for more information,” he said.