New England Solar Farm is a proposed 720MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power project to be developed in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia.
The solar farm will be developed and operated by UPC Renewables Australia, which has a portfolio of solar, wind, battery and pumped hydro projects under development in Victoria, South Australia, NSW and Tasmania.
The project is estimated to cost approximately A$768m ($539.75m), which will be funded by local and global organisations.
The grid-connected farm is expected to generate about 1,800GWh of electricity annually, which will be sufficient to meet the power demand of over 250,000 homes in NSW. It will have a design life of up to 30 years.
The construction of the solar project is scheduled to begin in mid-2020 and will involve two stages. It is expected to be completed in 2023.
The solar farm site will be located 6km east of Uralla Township in the New England region of NSW. Uralla is located 19km south of Armidale. The facility will be built on land, spanning 2,000ha across two solar fields.
The New England region was recognised by the NSW Government as the priority zone for the development of large-scale renewable energy. It is also one of the three potential renewable energy zones identified across NSW by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).
The site is favourable for renewable electricity generation as it is located at an elevation of 1,000m above sea level. It receives high solar power from the sun and also offers other benefits such as cooler temperatures and favourable topography that could lead to greater efficiency.
The solar farm will be well-connected to the existing electricity transmission network. The electricity produced from the facility will be transferred to the national grid, using TransGrid’s 330kV transmission line, which cuts across the proposed project site.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment (Department) approved the environmental impact statement (EIS) of the project for public presentation in February 2019.
Concerns on land use compatibility, transport and traffic management, visual amenity, as well as decommissioning and rehabilitation of the project site were raised by the community during the presentation.
UPC incorporated changes to the development application (DA) and EIS based on the feedback and submitted an amendment report to the department for the solar project in June 2019.
The company agreed to remove the southern array area and a small section of the northern array. Other proposed changes include exploring an option for underground and overhead transmission lines and the potential use of the Main North railway line to transport infrastructure related to the solar project.
The department released an assessment report on DA and EIS in December 2019 and the state significant development (SSD) application was submitted to the state’s independent planning commission (IPC) during the same month.
The solar farm project received conditional approval from the IPC in March 2020.
New England solar farm will be built across two separate solar fields, northern and central array near Uralla on the Northern Tablelands.
The northern array area will be able to generate 500MW, while the central array will have the capacity to produce 220MW of electricity.
The solar farm will feature more than 2.4 million solar panels across the arrays on cleared cattle grazing land. It will also include 150 power conversion units and a lithium-ion battery storage facility. The battery energy storage system (BESS) will have the capacity to store up to 400MWh and will support the operations during peak demand times.
Solar panel rows will be installed approximately 5m-8m apart and at a height of 1.2m from the ground, using a single-axis tracking system following the sun path. The tracking technology is expected to keep more than 60% of the project land free from infrastructure, allowing ample space for sheep grazing.
The project site will also include operations and maintenance (O&M) infrastructure that will mainly include a control room, meeting areas, a temperature-controlled facility to store spare parts and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) facilities.
A workshop and supporting infrastructure, including a kitchen and toilets, will be built. Access to the site will be provided by several new internal roads that will connect the surrounding road network to the north and central array areas. The developer will also create car parking spaces and place fencing within the project boundary.
The project proposal includes a grid substation in the northern array area and an internal substation in the central array area.
New England solar farm is expected to create more than 700 full-time jobs during construction and up to 15 permanent jobs upon the completion to support operations.
The solar farm will produce clean renewable energy and reduce up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO₂ emissions.
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