THE construction of a $180 million Bomen solar farm set to save 210,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year has sparked discussions about the region's role in renewable energy.
In January, a planning permit was granted for a $1 billion, 900-megawatt solar farm near Narrandera to become the state's largest.
The majority of the state's 70 projects will be developed in the Riverina and Murray. The 250-hectare site in Bomen is now one of 19 sites in the region to be approved.
Nicky Ison, director at Community Power Agency, a not-for-profit organisation that advocates for community-led clean energy, said the region is "blessed with good transmission infrastructure".
"It has a strong renewable energy zone and presents a huge economic opportunity," she said.
It [Riverina-Murray] has a strong renewable energy zone and presents a huge economic opportunityNicky Ison, Director at Community Power Agency
Ms Ison, who is also a research associate at the University of Technology's Institute for Sustainable Future, said a positive of Spark Infrastructure's 310,000-panel solar farm is its $1 million community fund.
"Especially for a 120-megawatt site - that's what we should be expecting from solar developers," she said.
Ms Ison said "teething issues" will continue to exist in the solar industry as it is relatively new compared with other renewable energies, such as wind farm.
"It's learning and evolving. Seventy solar farms [in NSW] are a lot, which can be both daunting and exciting," she said.
"It depends on the practices of solar developers and on the planning done by governments to really maximise benefits [for all parties]."
Asked about land use between the renewable energy and agriculture sectors, she said both can co-exist.
"It's up to governments, contractors and business to get on the front foot to look at where it's appropriate to put these solar farms to be best integrated into the landscape and community," she said.
"As well as how they position themselves to ensure shared funds are really delivering."
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In March 2018, the state government identified potential energy zones across three broad regional areas, including the south west region.
Then in July this year, parliament's environment and planning committee started an inquiry into the economic opportunities for renewables and how to support communities affected by changing resource markets.
A spokesperson from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the Riverina Murray region has attracted "considerable interest from solar developers given the presence of major transmission lines and existing electricity substations".
"The identified energy zones are aimed at encouraging investment in new electricity infrastructure and unlocking additional generation capacity in order to ensure secure and reliable energy in NSW," the spokesperson said.
"The department undertakes a comprehensive assessment of the merits of solar farm proposals and works closely with communities, councils and stakeholders when determining these projects."
Mark Bretherton, spokesperson at Clean Energy Council, said the Riverina is great for solar power because of its good access to the power grid.
"Typically the best regions for solar power have strong and consistent sunshine, lots of suitable land, and are in a good position to connect to the electricity network," he said.
"The Riverina is fast turning into a renewable energy hotspot for these reasons."
Mr Bretherton said solar and wind power are now the cheapest and cleanest kind that can be built today.
"Most of the solar farms being built in Australia at the moment use almost identical technology to the panels installed on homes and businesses across the country," Mr Bretherton said.
"As our oldest coal and gas plants retire, we will need to build power generation to replace them."
He said that the energy sector has strong potential to reduce carbon pollution by switching from coal and gas to renewable energy.
"This is good for our air quality, as well as helping to put some extra money in the pockets of farmers and other landholders who host wind and solar farms on their properties," he said.
Bill Schulz, president of Eunony Valley Association, which has opposed solar farm proposals in the past, declined to comment about the latest construction.
However, he confirmed the association continues to discuss proposals with developers.