Aussie NSW Farmers Call for a Ban on New Solar Projects


by Eric Worrall at

NSW Farmers, Australia’s largest farming organisation, is demanding a prepaid decommissioning fund for solar farms, to prevent farmers being left with the bill for decommissioning and disposal.

Farming lobby wants ban on new solar farms, as renewables resentment festers in regions

Sophie Vorrath 27 July 2023

Australia’s largest state farming organisation, NSW Farmers, is calling for a temporary ban on the construction of new large-scale solar farms in the state, amid concerns developers are not acting in the long-term interests of regional communities.

In a motion passed at the Association’s 2023 annual conference last week, NSW Farmers agreed to call on the state Labor government to place a moratorium on large scale solar developments until “planning deficiencies” around plant decommissioning and remediation are addressed.

“Current planning and approval provisions for large scale solar energy facilities do not take into account the long-term interests of agricultural land, rural communities and the rural landscape following the ‘decommissioning’ of the facility,” notes on the motion say.

“Agricultural land, rural communities and rural landscapes are at risk in the future and there should be no further development approvals granted until these planning deficiency issues have been fully addressed.”

The call from NSW Farmers follows a recent warning from Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, that landowners may wind up lumbered with responsibility for cleaning up renewable power projects at the end of their lives, by default.

The demand for a prepaid cleanup fund echoes existing arrangements in the mining industry, in which mining companies have to pay into a fund to ensure mining sites are restored after the mine is exhausted, even if the mining company fails.

Solar panels frequently contain toxic heavy metals, like lead and arsenic, which potentially pose long term contamination issues for farmers seeking to rehabilitate end of life solar installations as agricultural land.

Arsenic and lead can form highly mobile inorganic salts, but also readily form insoluble salts and stable organic chemicals, a dangerous and complex chemistry which could facilitate long term contamination of agricultural soil.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a Chernobyl style topsoil removal was required to completely eliminate the threat. Arsenic chemically mimics phosphorus, so chemically removing arsenic would also remove all the phosphorus from the soil. Lead is believed to mimic iron, calcium (lime) and Magnesium, so removing lead would strip other key minerals. At the very least during treatment the soil would likely have to be made acidic for a prolonged period, to try to leach the contaminants out of surface strata. Such treatment could lead to ground water contamination, which might in turn require extensive deep drilling and ground water strata barrier construction to remediate. Strong acidification would also likely kill the soil, leaving the soil devoid of beneficial bacteria and other beneficial organisms.

NSW renewable operators are already reeling from a recently announced grid “access fee”. An in my opinion entirely reasonable demand for massive upfront payments to cover land remediation after end of life could push some renewable projects well into the financially non-viable zone, even with generous government subsidies.

Given the debt levels being carried by some Aussie state governments, all these new charges and demands for money are likely only a prelude to the regulatory financial shakedown renewable operators, and anyone else who invests in Australia, are likely to face in the near future.

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