Shine rubbing off solar array?

EPURON’S proposed solar farm in South Fremantle made it through Fremantle council’s planning committee this week.

It seems not everyone’s turned on by having renewable energy on the doorstep, though, with a number of locals raising concerns; principally, that putting it on a contaminated tip site surrounded by housing is too risky.

The council received 49 submissions about the proposal before putting the committee agenda together, almost evenly split between those for and against.

But in an odd departure from standard practice, the agenda was posted on the council’s website before the end of the submission period, and one resident’s unhappy her objections weren’t considered by staff before the report recommending the project be given the go-ahead was written.

Bobby Wilson, who’s been campaigning since the mid-80s for the council to make the tip site part of a green corridor connecting South Beach with Clontarf Hill, says it looks like the council is rushing the project through and not taking the time to adequately consider the ramifications.

“The proponent has absolutely no experience in contaminated sites,” Ms Wilson told the Herald.

• A proposed solar farm in South Fremantle seemed a win-win for everyone; green energy and a use for a long-neglected wasteland. But following a public consultation, a number of residents such as Bobby Wilson are raising questions about whether it’ll put people’s health at risk.

She says the undulating surface of the old tip would require too much disturbance to be flattened for a solar farm, which would put the health of nearby residents at risk.

“The windblown surface contaminants are very dangerous, let alone those coming from disturbing the soil as will inevitably happen by levelling, vehicle use, compaction and subsidence of the site, and inevitable excavation for light poles, fences etc at the beginning, and later, during the life of the site.”

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s contaminated sites register notes asbestos in the sand capping on the site, which was common before more strict regulations were introduced.

Asbestos

Ms Wilson says the council and state government have actually contravened laws by not remediating and re-capping the site, leading to an “ongoing environmental disaster” in the nearby South Fremantle Village development where contaminated groundwater has flowed under residential blocks, and further out into the ocean.

The activist, who kept a year-long vigil as the village was being developed, says allowing a profit-making company long-term access to the site presents a conflict of interest, as protecting the health of residents isn’t its priority.

“The council has a woeful record on enforcement issues, it has no budget or sufficient staff for the day-to-day compliance issues, let alone the specialised training for these types of issues.”

Other objections raised by residents included:

• An industrial-scale solar farm is incompatible with the surrounding residential use;

• Glare from the panels will affect nearby homes, particularly those on second or third floors;

• The constant hum will be annoying;

• Additional fire hazards caused by electrical switches near a known methane gas source; and,

• “Growing” concern about the health effects of electro-magnetic radiation.

But there were others enthusiastic about a use for what’s previously been an eyesore.

“Fantastic asset for the environment and the community,” wrote one submitter. “Could a border of vegetation around the perimeter of the site be added to compliment (sic) the Hollis Park project and allow homes for bird (sic) and wildlife.”

“We live in the end house of Hulbert Street in Fremantle so have been very interested to see the sign go up advertising the change of zoning for proposed solar farm on the South Fremantle landfill site,” wrote another. “We fully support the use of the land and totally agree with the amendment. We think having a solar farm would be a fantastic asset for the environment and the community.”

Planning committee chair Jon Strachan is also enthusiastic about the project.

Having been an activist involved in the earlier development of the area, he says he saw enough information about contamination to be convinced the solar farm won’t affect landowners negatively.

Ms Wilson says anyone interested in more information can contact her at wilsonparkfreo@hotmail.com

by STEVE GRANT

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