FLOODPRONE AND COSTLY: The cane land purchased by the Sunshine Coast Council for a solar farm.
FLOODPRONE AND COSTLY: The cane land purchased by the Sunshine Coast Council for a solar farm. Brett Wortman

Audit office to look at Council solar farm purchase

THE Queensland Audit Office has been asked to look into a series of transactions that culminated in May with the Sunshine Coast Council's purchase of a 40ha flood-prone block of cane land for a total outlay of $4.33 million.

Two years ago the land, on Yandina-Coolum Rd, was on the market for $650,000 before it was sold first for $770,00 and then $1.1 million on the same day.

The council, in turn, bought the land for its proposed $30 million solar farm project.

That scheme itself is in doubt because of a challenge to the development approval, which is being considered by the Planning and Environment Court.

The council has refused to explain its $2.68 million payment to Gruenenergy for an option to buy the land and an additional $1.65 million to Akerman Enterprises for the actual property.

The council has also refused to detail its business case for the solar farm, which is supposed to save ratepayers $9 million in energy costs over 30 years.

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"There are currently legal and contractual issues being addressed and it is not appropriate for council to make any comment at this time,'' it said in a statement.

Independent Member for Nicklin Peter Wellington, a former Maroochy Shire councillor, said there were clearly serious community concerns about the transactions, and the council needed to offer a full explanation.

A solar farm on the block was first proposed in February 2011 as a commercial venture by Energy Parks Australia, a company headed by former council planner Jason Hague.

The council approved a material change of use for the site in mid-2011 despite 85 objections.

One of those objectors, Noel Covey, did not receive a decision notice of the approval as required. He subsequently received the document last year - it had instead inadvertently been sent to Mr Hague, who did not return it - and appealed the decision.

That matter is before the Planning and Environment Court and may result in the right to build a solar farm a on the site being voided.

The solar farm attracted no commercial interest before the council took over the project.

In 2013, after announcing it would move to take over the solar farm project, the council paid Gruenenergy a $300,000 non-refundable deposit on an option to buy its option on the property for $2.38 million, which was to be paid in two amounts of $1.19 million.

That transaction was concluded this year and the council then paid Akerman $1.5 million plus GST of $150,000.


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