Frequently Asked Questions

Renewable Energy

What is renewable energy?

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency defines renewable energy as that which is produced using natural resources that are constantly replaced and never run out. Just as there are many natural sources of energy, so too are there many renewable energy technologies that produce heat or electricity. These include solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, bioenergy and ocean energy. Renewable energy production is complemented by storage technologies that enable production by day and night, such as batteries and smart technologies that predict when and where electricity will be required.

Why are we talking about renewable energy now?

Due to environmental, health and safety concerns, there are plans to shut down the operations of Australia’s ageing coal-fired power stations. To cope with the potential shortfalls in energy capacity associated with these closures, and to ensure energy security for future generations, new forms of modern, cleaner energy sources are urgently needed. For this reason, both State and Federal governments have announced initiatives to encourage investment into the development of renewable energy projects.

How do renewable energy projects impact the economy?

Large scale renewable energy projects create long-term employment. As at 15 March 2019, more than 13,000 Australians were employed in the large-scale renewable energy sector, with this number expected to climb. Not only are these new jobs crucial to rural communities, but their positive flow-on effect is felt through local supply chains.

Is a sustainable future achievable?

Definitely. European countries, including Germany and the UK, have been leading by example, showing the world that it is indeed possible to switch to 100 per cent renewable power in a manner that is both viable and realistic.





The Electricity Network

How much energy will the farm generate, and will it affect supply security and electricity prices?

West Mokoan Solar Farm will have an estimated network capacity of 190 megawatts and is expected to generate enough clean power for the equivalent of approximately 68,000 households.

If power generated from the farm can meet local demands, then there may be no need to import power from elsewhere. Regardless, West Mokoan Solar Farm will help reduce the pressure on powerlines and improve security of supply.

As the electricity market is mainly driven by supply and demand, the increased supply in the market will stabilise electricity prices.

How will the farm’s solar energy be supplied?

Electricity from West Mokoan Solar Farm will generally be supplied to high voltage transmission networks. These larger networks function like freeways in road networks, allowing large amounts of power to flow a long way with minimum loss.

Some electricity will exit along the way and step down to a lower voltage network before feeding into distribution networks that transfer electricity to individual energy users such as households, businesses and industry. These smaller distribution networks are like local streets in road networks.

Will West Mokoan Solar Farm prioritise local electricity needs?

Yes. In order to be energy efficient, electricity from West Mokoan Solar Farm will meet local demands in the network before flowing further afield.

Will the solar farm impact my domestic rooftop solar system?

No. The solar farm will be connected to a high voltage transmission network, as opposed to the low voltage distribution networks to which rooftop solar systems connect.



Construction

When will construction take place?

Construction is proposed to commence in 2021, with completion occurring approximately 12 to 18 months after that. Any works would take place within working hours as permitted by law (generally weekdays from 7AM to 6PM). Should works need to be done on Saturday, Environment Protection Authority Victoria guidelines will be followed (permitted working hours vary depending on the types of works).

How will construction noise, vibration and dust be managed?

During construction, the following measures will be undertaken in order to minimise noise and vibration:

  • No scheduled project construction, maintenance and decommissioning activities to occur during night time, Sundays or public holidays unless prior approval has been granted by relevant regulatory body;
  • Shut off / throttle down any vehicles or equipment not in use; and
  • Where reasonably practicable, utilise latest noise reduction equipment and technology.

During construction, the following measures will be undertaken in order to minimise dust generation:

  • Avoid or minimise ground disturbance, soil movement and other dust producing activities;
  • Utilise water or wetting agent on any exposed areas, including unpaved roads and lay down areas;
  • Utilise wind breaks and slit fencing; and
  • Undertake flexible management of speed limits in accordance with road and wind conditions.
How will traffic be managed during the development?

A traffic impact assessment has been undertaken and will be submitted to The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning for review and approval as part of the Planning Approval process. This will guide any traffic management plan that might be required later. South Energy will ensure that plans are closely followed, and that any construction is considerate of road users, stakeholders and the community.

How much concrete is necessary for the farm’s construction?

Concrete will only be required for parts of the substation and battery storage foundation, and possibly for inverter plinths, depending on the final design. The solar panels, which comprise most of the site infrastructure, are mounted on piles that are driven into the ground, thus not requiring concrete.



Day-to-Day Operations

What’s involved with maintaining the solar farm (ie. cleaning, weeding, safety checks)?

West Mokoan Solar Farm will have a cleaning schedule that accounts for rainfall and how much dust and dirt is in the air. For example, if there is harvesting nearby, the solar panels may need to be cleaned the next day. Solar farm staff would continually monitor performance and check for any decline in production to arrange for cleaning.

As well as regular cleaning, any weeds or pest animals found around the solar panels will be controlled on a regular basis. This will be done in accordance with an approved monitoring plan.

Perimeter security fencing, CCTV, all-weather access tracks, fire breaks, regular site inspections and ongoing maintenance checks are some of the measures that will ensure the safe operation of the solar farm. The site manager’s contact details will also be provided to the public, in case any concerns arise.

How will construction noise, vibration and dust be managed?

During construction, the following measures will be undertaken in order to minimise noise and vibration:

  • No scheduled project construction, maintenance and decommissioning activities to occur during night time, Sundays or public holidays unless prior approval has been granted by relevant regulatory body;
  • Shut off / throttle down any vehicles or equipment not in use; and
  • Where reasonably practicable, utilise latest noise reduction equipment and technology.

During construction, the following measures will be undertaken in order to minimise dust generation:

  • Avoid or minimise ground disturbance, soil movement and other dust producing activities;
  • Utilise water or wetting agent on any exposed areas, including unpaved roads and lay down areas;
  • Utilise wind breaks and slit fencing; and
  • Undertake flexible management of speed limits in accordance with road and wind conditions.
How will the solar farm be protected?

The solar farm would be bordered by a 2m high chain mesh steel fence. Floodlighting would not be required. However, motion sensor CCTV cameras would be installed along the fence-line. The cameras would only monitor the boundary fence and areas within the solar farm, ensuring the privacy of neighbouring properties.

Will the solar farm be noisy?

Solar farms barely emit any noise. You would need to be right up close to the farming equipment in order to hear it.

What will be the solar farm’s life-cycle?

The life-cycle of West Mokoan Solar Farm is 25 to 30 years, at which time South Energy would either reinstate full agricultural use of the land or, if permitted, consider upgrading the solar farming equipment.

What will happen to the solar panels if/when the solar farm is decommissioned?

There are a range of emerging technologies and processes for safely handling and recycling all the components of the solar panels.



Impact on Local Community

How will the project benefit the community?

South Energy is committed to providing support to the local community via benefit sharing programs that help address the region’s key social, economic and environmental needs. At this stage, there are no plans for community ownership, however, South Energy is committed to providing a community fund.

Will the solar farm boost the local economy?

The project will positively impact local employment, through the provision of approximately 300 direct and indirect jobs during the approximate 12 to 18 month construction phase and up to six permanent jobs once in operation. The employment benefits extend through the local supply chain to mechanics, cleaners, plant nurseries, clothing retailers, caterers, hospitality providers, tool and equipment suppliers and a range of other businesses.

Will West Mokoan Solar Farm affect nearby property values?

Solar farms are not known to impact property values, either positively or negatively. They are quiet and safe to run, they provide energy security for the local area and their visual impact can be managed through appropriate vegetative screening.



Environmental Impact

Do solar farms increase fire risk?

South Energy understands the importance of fire risk management and will always put the public’s safety first. The design for West Mokoan Solar Farm will be consistent with Country Fire Authority guidelines, with a 10-metre firebreak (which also acts as an access track) built within the farm and along its boundary.

Will the solar farm effect the local climate?

A study by Y. Li published in Science (2018) has shown that solar farms can make land less reflective, which can lead to more rain and vegetation, which would likely be of benefit to a region.

Meanwhile, a report prepared for the City of Greater Shepparton into a phenomenon known as the ‘Heat Island Effect’ – where man-made areas are hotter than nearby rural areas – has shown that any temperature increases from a solar farm would be minor and local to the area directly above the panels, with any heat immediately dissipated into the air.

Will the solar farm damage the land?

Given sunlight and rainfall can get between the panels to maintain plant life, solar farms do very little damage to the land. Structures within the solar farm are easily installed and do not affect groundwater and water runoff from the panels is not known to affect natural drainage patterns. Further, without need for the chemicals required of intense farming, solar farms can be beneficial to the land.

How will water run-off and weeds be managed by the project?

A preliminary surface water study was undertaken as part of the project’s feasibility study. The results showed that surface water traversing the site is generally slow, shallow and wide spreading. Given that the solar structures are elevated 2m in height and supported by poles, the large clearance underneath the structures will ensure that water can flow through without any issues.

Any weeds found around the solar panels would be controlled on a regular basis. Sheep grazing within solar farms, which is common practice around the world, is the most effective and environmentally friendly way to control weed growth. In addition to grazing sheep, Lake Mokoan Solar Farm would also employ labourers from time to time to manually clear and control the weeds.

Can agricultural activities continue?

The solar panels within West Mokoan Solar Farm will be spaced 8 to 10m apart, which means they will only cover about half of the available land. As well as acting as firebreaks and maintenance tracks, these large gaps between the solar panels (not to mention the 2m of space beneath them) can be put to agricultural uses such as sheep grazing. This practice has become commonplace globally, with sheep thriving in the sheltered conditions.

Will the farm effect native flora and fauna?

West Mokoan Solar Farm is located on land that has already been cleared. Except for the removal of a limited number of scattered trees, for which suitable offset will be provided, there will be no impact on any listed species. South Energy has engaged an accredited ecologist to ensure the protection of areas of ecological significance during both construction and operation of the solar farm.

As well as protecting the local environment, West Mokoan Solar Farm could enhance the area’s ecological value by creating more land uses. For example, by grazing sheep around the solar panels and planting indigenous shrubs and trees along its border.



Visual Impact

Will landscaping be provided as screening for surrounding properties?

A landscape buffer will be provided along the project boundary to protect the area’s visual amenity. Landscaping will include a mix of indigenous shrubs and trees of varied heights and will have the added benefit of creating important new habitats for native fauna, thus supporting the region’s biodiversity.

How far back from the boundary will the solar panels be set?

The solar farm will be set back approximately 10-20m from the boundary. This includes a landscape buffering and a firebreak, which doubles as an internal access track.

Will there be any glint and glare from the solar farm?

Solar panels are designed to absorb as much sunlight as possible and convert it into electricity. Minimising the panels’ reflectivity is a goal of panel design, manufacture and installation. As such, modern solar panels, as proposed for the West Mokoan Solar Farm, are treated with anti-reflective coatings, meaning they reflect significantly less light than other common materials such as paint and standard glass.



About South Energy

Is South Energy Australian owned?

South Energy is an Australian-owned, Melbourne-based renewable energy company that specialises in the delivery of solar farm projects.

What experience does South Energy have?

South Energy has Victoria’s largest pipeline for solar farm development, with five projects in planning in the state and a further two in Western Australia. These include:

Victoria:

Western Australia:

What are South Energy’s business values?

South Energy believes that clean and sustainable energy is the best solution for mitigating the risk of climate change. Our mission is to work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including government and the community, to ensure a greener future for the next generation of Australians.

Have your say & Contact us

We value feedback from the local community and we always welcome the opportunity to discuss queries you may have about the project.

Please feel free to let us know if you have any queries, ideas or opinions about the project by emailing us at westmokoan@southenergy.com.au