A prominent lawyer is warning Riverina farmers to exercise caution when pursuing solar farms as a revenue stream.
It comes as a number of solar farms in the Riverina area, including a 150 megawatt solar farm near Coleambally, have been approved or are being assessed by the state government.
The Riverina has been touted as one of the most ideal areas in the country for solar farms, but Aitken Lawyers partner Andrew Aitken said those looking to take advantage of sunny days ahead needed to make sure energy companies weren’t ripping them off.
He stressed the new frontier was a step in the right direction for our future energy needs, but said, from his experience, developers could take advantage of the trusting nature of rural landowners.
The best advice he could give to farmers was to communicate with each other and create a syndicate.
“Acting as a group gives negotiating power,” Mr Aitken said.
“It prevents the energy companies from playing residents off each other.
“(We’re here to) try to stop the developers from dividing and conquering.”
He said any landowners looking to go down the path of renewable energy needed to understand the contract details, saying a lot of companies talked up the dollars, but didn’t elaborate on the risks.
“It’s not just the reflectors, it’s the other costs such as pest (control), fire (prevention), and traffic movements,” Mr Aitken said.
“Lots of people have signed a document where it needed a lawyer to look at it.
“Sometimes it’s about what’s not (in the document) rather than what’s there.”
He said these type of leases differed significantly from normal industrial leases, as regular leases offered “exclusivity” whereas solar farms involved sharing the land.
Murrumbidgee Council administrator Austin Evans said the community had embraced the potential of solar farms.
He said the Coleambally farm had the potential to employ around 150 people for two years during its construction and another six or seven ongoing jobs.
“We generally have good spaces (for solar farm development),” Mr Evans said.
He added a development – near Darlington Point – could eclipse the planned farm at Coleambally.
“(If approved, the project will be) bigger than anywhere else,” Mr Evans said.