Benger Solar Farm is located on land that has already been cleared. Except for the removal of a limited number of scattered trees, for which suitable offset will be provided, there will be no impact on any listed species. South Energy has engaged an accredited ecologist to ensure the protection of areas of ecological significance during both construction and operation of the solar farm.
As well as protecting the local environment, Benger Solar Farm could enhance the area’s ecological value by creating more land uses. For example, by grazing sheep around the solar panels and planting indigenous shrubs and trees along its border.
The solar panels within Benger Solar Farm will be spaced 8 to 10m apart, which means they will only cover about half of the available land. As well as acting as firebreaks and maintenance tracks, these large gaps between the solar panels (not to mention the 2m of space beneath them) can be put to agricultural uses such as sheep grazing. This practice has become commonplace globally, with sheep thriving in the sheltered conditions.
A preliminary surface water study was undertaken as part of the project’s feasibility study. The results showed that surface water traversing the site is generally slow, shallow and wide spreading. Given that the solar structures are elevated 2m in height and supported by poles, the large clearance underneath the structures will ensure that water can flow through without any issues.
Any weeds found around the solar panels would be controlled on a regular basis. Sheep grazing within solar farms, which is common practice around the world, is the most effective and environmentally friendly way to control weed growth. In addition to grazing sheep, Benger Solar Farm would also employ labourers from time to time to manually clear and control the weeds.
Given sunlight and rainfall can get between the panels to maintain plant life, solar farms do very little damage to the land. Structures within the solar farm are easily installed and do not affect groundwater and water runoff from the panels is not known to affect natural drainage patterns. Further, without need for the chemicals required of intense farming, solar farms can be beneficial to the land.
A study by Y. Li published in Science (2018) has shown that solar farms can make land less reflective, which can lead to more rain and vegetation, which would likely be of benefit to a region.
Meanwhile, a report prepared for the City of Greater Shepparton into a phenomenon known as the ‘Heat Island Effect’ – where man-made areas are hotter than nearby rural areas – has shown that any temperature increases from a solar farm would be minor and local to the area directly above the panels, with any heat immediately dissipated into the air.
South Energy understands the importance of fire risk management and will always put the public’s safety first. The design for Benger Solar Farm will be consistent with Country Fire Authority guidelines, with a 10-metre firebreak (which also acts as an access track) built within the farm and along its boundary.