When a sugar cane farmer wanted to lease his land to a solar farm, he faced opposition from a miller and the council.
When a sugar cane farmer wanted to lease his land to a solar farm, he faced opposition from a miller and the council. Momolebo2020

Decision to block solar farm on canefields wrong - judge

A HOTLY contested solar farm will create jobs and possibly lower power bills and should not have been blocked, a judge has decided.

On Monday, Judge Richard Jones delivered his ruling on the Mirani solar power project, which is planned for sugarcane fields near Mackay.

In the long run, the project would have "roughly equal" benefits with keeping the land as it is, Judge Jones said.

But crucially, an estimated 100 jobs during the project construction would benefit the local economy, Judge Jones said.

He also said the project could improve the efficiency and reliability of power supply, with potential gains for consumers.

The dispute developed after farmer Colin Ash decided to lease some land to a solar company.

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

Mackay Sugar and some growers voiced concerns about using good quality agricultural land, or GQAL, for the 40-year project.

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

Last month, Esco engineer Patrick Rossiter told the court the project could help lower power prices and reduce energy transmission waste.

On Monday, Judge Jones said project backers gave strong evidence about the solar development's potential benefits.

Judge Jones also said there was a "State interest" in developing renewable energy sources.

The judge said there was an absence of evidence the 60MW project would damage the sugar industry or viability of local mills.

He said with appropriate land management practices, the land could return to agricultural use compatible with GQAL after four decades.

The judge also said no alternative site existed for the project.

He decided Mirani's proposal would not stop the land being used for agricultural purposes entirely.

Judge Jones said Mirani was "agreeable" to a demand it graze enough sheep on the land to ensure good land management.

The proposed solar farm would use about 165 hectares about 2.5km northwest of Mirani.

Judge Jones said the council planning committee's refusal was wrong and must be set aside. -NewsRegional