Sheep have been used to graze around solar panels, as at this US facility.
Sheep have been used to graze around solar panels, as at this US facility. GabeIglesia/Creative Commons

Solar sheep won't solve problem, judge told

FORTY years may as well be forever.

That's how a lawyer described a proposed solar farm's impact on farmland.

The Mirani Solar Farm project near Mackay has sparked debate about using good-quality agricultural land, or GQAL, for solar farms.

The dispute returned on Wednesday to a Brisbane court, where argument emerged about how a four-decade lease might impact the land.

Milling company Mackay Sugar opposed the project, and Mackay Regional Council committee voted 4-3 against the solar farm last year.

Solar company Esco Pacific appealed to the Planning and Environment Court.

On Wednesday, Judge Richard Jones said issues included whether land involved was GQAL, and if so, whether the project would cause alienation.

Regional council barrister Douglas Quayle said "40 years in the relevant context is permanent" and the solar project would alienate the sugarcane land from agricultural use.

"The productive capacity is lost."

Another issue was whether grazing sheep around the solar panels would stop the land's "alienation".

Mr Quayle claimed the solar company "erected a case" about the sheep "to avert the problems it has about alienation".

Addressing issues of renewable energy's public benefits, Mr Quayle said solar was "pulling its weight" and Queensland renewable energy goals were on track anyway.

Mirani Solar's barrister James Lyons said a decision in favour of the project would not "contribute to death by a thousand cuts" for GQAL.

He said issues before the court were "very important" for renewable energy initiatives "not just for this generation but for future generations."

The solar firm previously said the 60MW project could lower power prices, reduce energy transmission wastage and reduce the proportion of energy generated from carbon-intensive sources.

Judge Jones said agriculture and energy, including renewable energy, were both state interests.

He said renewable energy could provide major public benefits, but that did not make it "some eminent goal that should override everything else".

He said the closeness of the 4-3 council decision would not affect the appeal's outcome.

Judge Jones was expected to make his decision on Mirani's appeal later.

- NewsRegional