PROJECT & TECHNOLOGY
Solar PV cells generate electricity by absorbing sunlight and using that light energy to create an electrical current. Inverters convert the accumulation of electricity from a selection of solar panels from DC to AC power and at the substation the voltage is stepped up for distribution to the grid. The angle at which the light hits the panel relates to the amount of energy that can be harvested from it, which is why tracking systems help to optimise solar generation.
The construction time frame depends on the project size and the number of workers deployed on site. For a 440 MW power plant, an 18 to 24-month time frame is typical, with peak construction period of 2 to 3 months.
Neoen uses similar technology to that used in residential solar photovoltaic installations with the main difference being that panels are often mounted on systems that track the sun through the sky. Neoen is experienced in financing, constructing and operating solar farms and in all areas only engages experienced contractors with a proven track record. The Culcairn Solar Farm will utilise premium tier 1 quality solar panels and battery technology provided by leading manufacturers.
Neoen’s projects use premium quality panels, inverters and battery technology provided by leading manufacturers. This is selected through a competitive process for each project. All components come with long warranty periods and performance guarantees.
A solar farm will typically operate for between 25 and 30 years. Tier 1 solar panels that will be procured for the project generally come with a 25-year manufacturer’s warranty. Depending on the local environment, they can generate electricity for 30 years or more with only about 0.5% efficiency loss each year. It is anticipated that the solar farm will operate for between 25 to 30 years.
Generally speaking solar panels have a dimension of 1m x 2m. Rows of solar panels are usually 30, 60 or 90 meter long. And rows of panels are separated by 5 to 7 meters. However, this varies from project to project.
Improved manufacturing techniques on tier 1 panels include anti-reflective (AR) coatings on solar panels. This increases the amount of energy converted by the panels from sunlight. In addition, by minimising reflective losses from (or trapping more light within) solar panels, their performance can be increased while costs are lowered.
Because of these innovations in AR coatings and detailed research solar panel installations are now commonly found in airports around the world where any issue of glare would be highly scrutinised. For example, the Adelaide airport now has 5,000 solar panels with a capacity of 1.28 MW on the roof of the terminal and car park.
At the end of a solar farm’s operational life, Neoen either refurbishes and re-energises the project, or decommissions it. If Neoen decides to decommission the solar farm, we will convert the site back to grazing/agricultural land.
This site has been selected owing to some key advantages:
- its high solar irradiance,
- topography of the land,
- limited vegetation and impact to biodiversity,
- proximity to the transmission network,
- and availability to connect more energy capacity in this part of the network.
Neoen is a long-term owner and operator and a committed project custodian and will establish circular procurement initiatives with its project partners to follow best practices in recycling and waste management. Components such as solar panels will be recycled – typically by the manufacturer.
Solar panels are manufactured using few components; predominantly aluminium, glass and silicon, and over 90% of a panel’s weight can be recycled. These materials can be separated and captured, for reuse in the manufacture of other products.
A local employment information session is hosted by the team in a community hall / venue before construction works begin. In addition, Neoen will establish a community benefit sharing program to fund local projects. Media reports also indicate that farmers can drought-proof their businesses through hosting solar as an additional income stream.
Renewable energy projects are now the cheapest sources of new energy generation. Solar energy projects produce energy at less than $50 per megawatt-hour. The costs of other sources of generation are:
- Existing coal: approximately $40 per megawatt hour
- Combined gas-cycle generation: approximately $75 per megawatt hour
- New coal: approximately $130 per megawatt hour
Wind and solar are the cheapest form of new energy production. The transitioning energy system needs a mix of wind, solar and storage and transmission.
Neoen pays for any transmission upgrades necessary to connect and operate the project in the electricity grid. This includes construction and maintenance costs for the life of the project.
Solar energy forms just one part of the Australian Energy Market Operators (AEMO) move towards renewable energy. Solar farms add to the supply side of the electricity supply-demand equation, which puts downward pressure on all electricity bills.
Neoen does not require government subsidies to finance its projects. We finance our projects through a combination of our own equity and long-term bank loans. However, we sometimes enter into agreements with governments or businesses to sell the energy produced by our projects.
All Neoen projects meet strict State and Federal Government regulations and are assessed under these regulations. We work closely with governments to ensure we meet all legal requirements and exceed these requirements wherever possible.
Neoen has a strong balance sheet with over $1bn in cash and strong earnings, and listed on the European stock exchange. There is residual value in the infrastructure which will offset the cost of any decommissioning. The solar farm can be resold and operated by a third party.
We have been engaging with immediate neighbours and the community from early stages of the development process. We have engaged with the local branch of NSW Farmers, hosted a community drop-in session and been liaising directly with community members in small groups to respond to their questions. Before receiving approval on our Development Application, we also organised a bus trip for neighbours and interested community members to Neoen’s Numurkah Solar Farm, and an on-site fire management workshop.
We welcome local knowledge and feedback from the community on a range of topics including how they would like to see the project benefit-sharing program to be executed. You can submit your thoughts by filling the community feedback survey on the website.
We believe in sharing the benefits of renewable energies with the communities we operate in. Neoen Projects have a community benefit sharing program. This will provide meaningful benefits to communities surrounding the Culcairn Solar Farm. We welcome feedback from the community on how this program can be executed. Please let us know your views by completing the survey on our project website.
This objection is common in development of renewable (primarily wind) projects both in Australia and overseas. Neoen fully appreciates that for most households, their home is their primary asset and that factors which may affect its value are of deep significance. Accordingly, the company takes concerns regarding property values very seriously.
However, Neoen is not aware of, and has not been presented with, any reliable, impartial research or evidence which establishes a correlation between real estate values and proximity to renewable infrastructure. Anecdotally, property values around several of our sites have increased.
The most recent and relevant study carried out in Australia was commissioned by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and published by planning consultancy Urbis in July 20161 This report comprised both an analysis of available sales data and a ‘literature review’ of Australian and international studies (including a 2009 report prepared for the NSW Valuer-General’s office). Its conclusions are most easily understood when divided into ‘agricultural’ and ‘lifestyle’ land.
Whilst property values are influenced by a range of factors and it is therefore difficult to determine if solar farms (or other similar infrastructure) can cause land values on neighbouring agriculture properties to increase or decrease, it is not expected that the Culcairn Solar Farm would affect the productivity of neighbouring agricultural properties.
Neoen will have its own insurance policy in place to provide coverage in the unlikely event that solar farm equipment is damaged by fire. A Bush Fire Management Plan will include procedures to deal with a fire on site, and normally requires water to be kept on site for that specific purpose.
The Environmental Management Strategy will include obligations that prevent the spread of fire across the site (such as grass cutting and an asset protection zone if required).
Neoen understands the concern of adjoining landowners regarding potential damage to a Neoen facility, however, the important elements for consideration are:
- For an adjoining landowner to have any liability for fires that have spread from their property to the solar farm, it has to be demonstrated that the landowner was negligent in causing damage.
- The occurance of a fire from a weather event (e.g. a lightning strike) that migrates from the landowner property to Neoen property would not necessarily create a legal liability for the landowner, likewise if there was a heavy rainfall event and water drained from an adjoining property to Neoen facility this again is not necessarily a negligent act of the landowner.
In summary, Neoen has its own insurance and would seem to make claim on that first in the event of fire damage to the solar farm, however Neoen recommends that farmers on nearby properties take all maximum precautions to prevent the ignition and spreading of fires, and seek advice from their insurance providers on individual insurance policy matters.
Health & Culture
Solar panels are deployed on more than 25% of Australian homes and have been deployed for the past 10 to 15 years on people’s homes in the world. No health issues have been associated with solar panels and the Culcairn Solar Farm would use the same type of technology dispatched across a wider area in a low voltage infrastructure. High voltage infrastructure would remain along the existing transmission line and would not increase health risks.
The project is designed to be compliant with legislated noise requirements, which is validated by acoustic engineers. The design includes setbacks, vegetation screening and situates the project’s substation in the centre of the project site.
Solar farms do not create significant noise during operation.
Monitoring of dust levels during construction is a basic requirement of each project. Dust generating activities are assessed during windy conditions and are stopped and rescheduled where adequate control of dust generation cannot be achieved.
Visual observation of machinery is undertaken during site inspections in addition to daily pre-start checks which ensure all machinery has appropriate emission control devices, is in good working order and is maintained correctly.
Trucks that spray water to suppress dust will be utilised when required to reduce the impact of dust from the various truck deliveries throughout the construction phase.
Neoen complies with all legislation, including laws regarding the protection of cultural heritage. A cultural heritage assessment forms part of initial studies as does consultation with local First Nations peoples to ensure cultural heritage is protected.
The Traditional Owners of the land on which Culcairn Solar Farm will be located are the Wiradjuri people. Neoen has drafted a Cultural Heritage Management Plan in consultation with Wiradjuri representatives and will continue to work with them across the construction and operational stages.
Neoen engages specialist consultants to undertake detailed flora and fauna surveys to determine the ecological attributes of the land.
On all of our projects, we aim to minimise the impact on flora and fauna by designing projects to be constructed outside areas of high conservation significance and adopting control measures during the construction process. Pre-existing patches of vegetation are retained.
Other mitigation measures include preparing management plans, identifying ‘no-go zones’ within the project site and conducting pre-clearance surveys. Neoen also consults with government departments of environment and biodiversity throughout the development, construction and operational stages of projects, as well as local non-government organisations.
Neoen built, owns and operates the Coleambally, Griffith, Dubbo and Parkes solar farms on multiple properties in New South Wales as well as the Numurkah Solar Farm in Victoria.
Sheep take a couple of days to get used to the site, and then are very comfortable with them – they use the shade from the solar arrays during summer.
There is a cleared vegetation zone around the edges of the solar farms to prevent fire propagation and vegetation levels are maintained according to regulations. Neoen ensures there is robust design and commissioning practices on its solar farms. This can be in the form of automatic fire suppression installation where appropriate, water storage on site for dedicated fire suppression. Engagement with local fire services is also an important element of bushfire preparedness.
A recent study commissioned by Agriculture Victoria
studied soil conditions underneath a utility scale solar farm with single axis tracking. The study hypotheses that the installation of solar panels had no negative effects on soil or climate characteristics below/around the panels was largely supported and concluded the following:
- Analysis of the data revealed that only subtle differences in temperature and humidity are found within the panel array compared to outside, and that these differences only occur at certain times and conditions;
- Directly under the panels, cooler soil temperature was observed under the panel centre due to the shadow cast by the panel tracking the sun. This contrast only occurred during the summer months.
The expense of the cleaning process and the amount of water used can vary widely depending on the size of the solar farm, the local climate (rainfall received in the region) and the cleaning technology employed.
How can I find out more about solar farms and their impact on agricultural production?
The Clean Energy Council, industry association for the renewables sector, published the “Australian Guide to Agrisolar for Large-Scale Solar” in March 2021. You can learn more by reading this guide on their website.
We acknowledge that solar facilities do impact the look of the surrounding area and we work with communities to ensure they have the lowest possible impact including planting trees, which will eventually provide screening.
Overall, we consider that the immediate and long-term benefits which solar farms bring to communities are greater than the visual impact it may have.
A maximum limit of 100 heavy vehicle movements in a day will apply on Culcairn Solar Farm during construction. We anticipate reaching this limit only during the 2-3 month peak construction period, the traffic volume would be lower outside this time.
No overhead or underground transmission lines need to be installed off-site since our solar farm will connect into the existing transmission network from a new on-site substation.
The site entrance will be off Weeamera Road. A site office will be built near the middle of the solar farm
Some of the changes that may be noticeable during construction relate to:
- increased traffic on public roads (Weeamera and Benambra Roads),
- traffic on-site and noise from piling works,
- upgrades to any access roads to ensure they can
handle construction traffic,
- increased dust due to civil works on-site.
Neoen is carrying out a detailed assessment of the access road’s suitability and upgrade requirements including a survey of the road to accurately map out the existing road and where any upgrades or road widening may be required.
Neoen will comply with obligations set out in planning conditions relating to road upgrades and maintenance. This will be done in consultation with neighbouring landowner and regional councils. Neoen pays for any road upgrades or repairs caused by or for building its project. A traffic management plan has also been drafted in consultation with the Greater Hume Shire Council, Transport for NSW, and other relevant stakeholders in order to address the impacts from construction traffic.