Solar farm snuffed

FREMANTLE council’s plans for a solar farm at the old South Fremantle landfill site are set to be killed off – but not quite buried.

At Wednesday’s finance and policy committee, councillors voted to terminate an agreement with renewable energy provider Epuron after it failed to secure a buyer for any power generated on the site.

Epuron had asked the council if it could offload the project to another company, but officers told the council they couldn’t see another operator having any better luck.

“The ongoing uncertainty over whether the solar farm will or will not proceed is unsettling for the local community and makes it difficult for the council to consider other potential suitable uses for the site,” the officers’ report said.

They had recommended the council “terminate any further work” on a solar farm, but an amendment from councillor Rachel Pemberton keeps it on the table.

Cr Pemberton said it was frustrating the solar farm proposal hadn’t progressed very far since the council first called for expressions of interest in 2014, and took aim at WA’s monopolistic energy market which had made finding a buyer difficult.

“I do think that is equally frustrating and something that also needs to change,” she said.

“I’m not completely wedded to the solar farm going forward, I just thought it important to keep it in the mix as a possibility,” she said of her amendment.

It calls for solar or “other type of renewable energy project” to be included in an upcoming review of potential uses for the site. “This is a constantly changing area, and there are other parameters like emission reduction targets and phasing out coal that are coming on line now that might create other opportunities,” she said, while singling out battery storage as a possibility.

South warder Andrew Sullivan lamented that Fremantle had been left with responsibility for the old landfill site, despite anecdotal evidence state government departments had contributed to the contamination.

“The era of saying to local governments, particularly a small one like Freo that ‘it’s your baby, you sort it out’ needs to be retested,” Cr Sullivan said.

“We would all love not to have a contaminated site on our doorstep, and the council could get on with development, including open space and sustainable development.”

He was backed by councillor Doug Thompson, who said he was aware of three other councils with old landfill sites sitting in prime development areas and expected the locked-up value could see movement at the state level in a couple of years.

But committee chair Jenny Archibald reminded everyone of the challenges for possible redevelopment, recalling a field trip to the tip in the 1970s while she was with the WA museum as part of a search for potential fossils after a 25,000-year-old wombat jawbone was discovered in another quarry.

They found “some really interesting old geological structures” but no wombats.

“But the one thing I did find was I walked into this small lake of oil, and you couldn’t see it because it was covered with dust; but people were putting anything in that tip site,” Cr Archibald said.

Cr Marija Vujcic urged the council not to reinvent the wheel during the upcoming review of the site.

“We have a lot of information on the tip, thousands of dollars of research which I think we need to go through again and keep what is relevant and perhaps have a look at what is not relevant, as opposed to starting all over again,” Cr Vujcic.

The committee’s recommendation goes to full council later this month for ratification.

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