The proposed solar farm would be in this area near Mirani.
The proposed solar farm would be in this area near Mirani. Google Maps

Solar plant sweet for power prices, company tells court

IT started when sugarcane farmer Colin Ash decided to lease some of his land to a solar power company.

But the proposed Mirani solar project has now sparked debate about Australia's power prices and the conversion of quality agricultural land to solar farms.

After milling company Mackay Sugar opposed the Mirani plant, a Mackay Regional Council committee voted 4-3 against the project last November.

The decision was reportedly so surprising, it caused the meeting to be adjourned so politicians could draft a new resolution.

Solar company Esco Pacific fought back.

And its appeal is being heard in the Planning and Environment Court in Brisbane this week.

On Wednesday, Esco engineer Patrick Rossiter told the court consumers in Queensland and elsewhere could share in the Mirani solar farm benefits.

He said the project could help lower power prices, reduce energy transmission wastage and reduce the proportion of energy generated from carbon-intensive sources.

Seven of Queensland's 10 biggest power plants were currently coal-fired and the other three gas-fired, according to Government data.

Mr Rossiter said renewables helped bring power prices down in South Australia when wind turbines harnessed gusty weather.

Judge Richard Jones asked if the Mirani project could help reduce prices nationally, or at the "eastern seaboard level at least".

Mr Rossiter said it could, "all things being equal" and if one used South Australia as an example.

But Mr Rossiter said he accepted a countervailing view existed that these benefits might be "sporadic or deferred".

Mackay Sugar and some local growers, however, have voiced concerns to media about using good quality agricultural land for the solar farm.

Similar debates between sugar and solar interests flared up when the Clare solar farm was developed near Townsville.

Esco described Mirani as a $70 million, 60MW project between Mirani and Gargett.

According to state government data, total energy generation from existing Queensland plants was 13,999MW.

Business Queensland's electricity generation map suggested Mirani would generate 20 per cent more power than the largest existing solar farm, at Kidston in the Far North.

The hearing continues. -NewsRegional