VICTORIA’S planning umpire has overturned a Mildura Rural City Council decision in relation to one of three proposed solar farm sites in Merbein and Mildura.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) presiding member Christopher Harty this week handed down his decision relating to the solar farm applications – proposed for Fifth Street, Merbein, McKays Road, Merbein, and Lake Street, Mildura – which were lodged by PowerVault Mildura in mid-2018.

While VCAT upheld Council’s decision to refuse permits for the McKays Road and Lake Street sites, it decided to overturn the decision regarding the Fifth Street site.

Mr Harty chose to approve the Fifth Street application subject to a whopping 56 conditions covering everything from construction to landscape requirements, noise, glint and glare, traffic access and decommissioning of the site.

Mildura Council initially refused permits for all three PowerVault sites in August 2018 following significant community outcry.

Council planners determined that the three sites failed to protect agricultural land, and would not produce any positive outcomes for agriculture.

Community objectors to the proposals also cited issues including amenity impacts, and the fact that the developments did not fit the “unique character” of the area.

Councillors went back and forth in their deliberations regarding the proposals in a marathon August 2018 Council meeting, before ultimately making the decision to refuse all three permits.

Mr Harty said that while the Fifth Street site was located within the Mildura Older Irrigation Area, its value for agricultural production had been “compromised by the construction of a trotting track and borrow pit.”

“These works fragment the site, leaving patches of land available for agricultural use in the centre and northern edges… which makes integrated use for farming purposes challenging,” he said.

Mr Harty said that the proposal represented “an acceptable outcome” for the Fifth Street site.

“We note that this site is bordered by a number of dwellings, and hence we have imposed conditions requiring setbacks for additional landscaping to provide appropriate buffers between these sensitive uses and the solar energy facility,” he said.

Since Council made its decision in August 2018, PowerVault Mildura a turbulent time.

On September 10 the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) published a proposed deregistration notice for PowerVault parent company PVLT Holdings Pty Ltd. Three subsidiary businesses – PowerVault Mildura Solar Generator One Pty Ltd, PowerVault Mildura Solar Generator Two Pty Ltd and PowerVault Mildura Solar Generator Three Pty Ltd – also had ASIC-initiated deregistration notices issued this month.

Such notices can be issued for different reasons, including when a company failed to pay its annual review fee, or when it had not responded to a compliance notice, had not lodged any documents within 18 months, or ASIC believed it was not in business.

In July, meanwhile, a wind-up application instigated by a creditor claiming to be owed more than $92,000 by PVLT Holdings was dismissed in Adelaide’s Federal Court. Four further subsidiaries of PVLT Holdings were also wound up after hearings in Victoria’s Supreme Court in March. During those proceedings an affidavit revealed creditors of those companies were owed a combined $928,000.