The Guidelines are meant to give information on the planning and approvals associated with solar farm projects, the stages of development, and guidance on community engagement.

The Queensland Government has released the draft Queensland Solar Farm Planning Guidelines which are to inform local councils, project proponents and members of the community about consistent and sustainable planning practices and establishes a framework for effective community engagement practices for solar farm projects. The submission period closes on 11 May 2018.

The Guidelines have been prompted by a significant increase in the development of solar farms in Queensland with 17 large-scale solar farms under construction across the state and another 40-plus potential solar farms.

What is the purpose of the Guidelines?

The Guidelines specifically relate to solar farms comprising commercial scale (ie. typically greater than five megawatts) photovoltaic solar arrays, however it is intended that the Guidelines can be applied to any scale of solar farm or other renewable energy projects, which are required to undergo a development assessment process.

The purpose of the Guidelines is to provide information on the planning and approvals associated with solar farm projects, the stages of development for a solar farm project and guidance on community engagement to improve transparency and allow for meaningfully participation by interested stakeholders in the development of large-scale solar farms.

Planning and approvals

The planning and approvals section of the Guidelines provides an outline of the government approvals (local, State and Commonwealth) that may be required for a solar farm including:

  • the process for development applications under the Planning Act 2016 including for material change of use, reconfiguring of a lot and operational works including a pre-application phase, submission of the application, referral to any agencies, information requests, decision on the application and an appeal process; and
  • what other permits, approvals and licences may be required with respect to clearing, cultural heritage, tenure over land or significant impacts on matters of national environmental significant.

Stages of development

The Guidelines discuss the solar farm project lifecycle and note the six stages of development:

  • site selection;
  • feasibility;
  • detailed assessment;
  • construction;
  • operation; and
  • end of life management.

In discussing each of the above stages, the Guidelines focus on the technical and social considerations that a proponent will consider when developing a solar farm. Key stakeholders are identified across each stage of the development, as well as a summary on what the community can expect for each stage.

The Guidelines state that a social licence to operate should be established and maintained by utilising the following recommendations:

  • updating stakeholders on the progress of the development;
  • using tools and approaches that engage the community;
  • responding to needs and expectations of the local community; and
  • communicating opportunities for the community.

Community engagement

The Guidelines discuss the benefits of community engagement, the approach to engagement, engagement principles and developing a community engagement plan which includes the following steps:

  • identifying stakeholders;
  • understanding needs;
  • building the a community engagement plan;
  • carrying out the plan; and
  • evaluating and refining the plan.

The Guidelines also provide a summary on effective community engagement techniques, activities and tools on each of the stages through the solar farm project lifecycle.

How to make a submission

Written submissions on the draft Guidelines can be made in the manner specified on the Queensland Government's website.

The Queensland Government is hosting community forums from 18 April 2018 to 3 May 2018 in Bundaberg, Dalby, Emerald, Mackay and Townsville.

It is understood that the draft Guidelines will be finalised in the second half of 2018.