Happy Valley is one of around 70 SA Water sites across the state where the utility is proposing to install a total of more than 500,000 solar panels. This is part of a wider initiative by SA Water to achieve zero net electricity costs and reduce costs for their customers.

For some of the larger solar panel installation sites or those near residential areas, SA Water is working closely with direct neighbours to gather their views.

SA Water’s Senior Manager of Customer and Community Engagement Matthew Bonnett said discussion on the project began with Flagstaff Hill and neighbouring suburbs in late 2018 through street corner meetings, and has continued in several formats since.

“Earlier this year, we sent letters to local residents and developed an online engagement space for people to provide their feedback at any time. We then called for representatives for a reference group, who held their first meeting in March,” Matthew said.

“In response to community feedback, we opened up the second reference group meeting to the wider community, and will hold another similar session on Tuesday 14 May. Following this, we will seek to reconvene the reference group.

“Invitations have been sent out for this meeting, and we encourage people to contact us if they’re interested in attending.

“These face to face open discussions are a chance for us to hear people’s thoughts on the project and work with them to develop landscape designs for the Happy Valley site to maximise the visual amenity of the area, following installation of the solar panels.

“Based on topics raised during the engagement process to date, we’re also using this opportunity to provide more detailed information on site selection and other aspects of the project that interest the community.”

SA Water is looking to install solar panels within its own land, so energy generation is located behind the meter.

“This will improve our resilience to grid interruptions, significantly reduce our network charges and isolate our business from electricity market price volatility, in both the short and long-term,” Matthew said.

“Installing panels external to our sites would also increase the cost of the project through additional infrastructure and required land acquisition.”

Happy Valley was identified as an opportunity based on its high energy use to run the water treatment plant, and ability to provide value for money in helping reduce overall electricity costs. Once this was determined, the utility carried out surveys to ascertain the best location within the reservoir reserve for the solar array.

“This considered suitability of the area’s topography to avoid steep gradients, and minimising impact to native vegetation,” Matthew said.

“An independent ecological assessment found the current location of Forestry SA’s commercial Aleppo pine plantation within our land to be the least biodiverse area in the reserve, with limited or no understorey vegetation and no hollow-forming trees for wildlife nesting.

“Native trees, such as Grey Box, within other areas of the reserve support declining and threatened bird species, including the Brown Treecreeper, which is endangered in the Mount Lofty Ranges. A large area of native vegetation will also remain to provide a buffer between the solar panels and nearby reservoir.

“The panels will be set back around 20 metres from the reservoir reserve boundary and can be screened by an earth mound planted with low growing native vegetation, which will support sediment and erosion control.”

To enable the installation of solar panels within the Happy Valley site, ForestrySA’s commercial Aleppo pine plantation hosted on SA Water land along South and Black Road will be harvested, as was always intended.

“A representative from ForestrySA attended our April meeting and advised the Aleppo pines were planted in around 1950 and, because the species generally matures at around 50 years of age, the trees at Happy Valley are well overdue for felling,” Matthew said.

“As a plantation declines, the less dominant trees die and fall onto the forest floor, which increases fuel load and can elevate the fire risk within the wider reservoir reserve. Additionally, the older a plantation is, the more vulnerable it is to damage such as wind and insect attack.

“ForestrySA added that commercial timber harvesting within its wider Mount Lofty Ranges plantation estate supports significant employment and provides a stimulus for economic activity.”

SA Water will lodge an application for the proposed solar array through the standard State Government development approval process. Subject to all necessary approvals, installation at Happy Valley is planned to begin in late 2019 and take around six months to complete. SA Water will continue engaging with the community throughout this process.

Source: Company Press Release