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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Renewable land grab leaves prime paddocks in production

A renewable energy land agent says farmers are happy with projects on paddocks they can't see from their porch, as long as it's their land making the money.

Renewables pioneer Daniel Moroko isn't an engineer or climate warrior, he's a property negotiator.

Working with farmers and project developers, he brokers deals for one of the most hotly contested aspects of the energy transition - land.

The founder of Australia's first renewable energy land acquisition agency, Mr Moroko has secured four gigawatts of big batteries and 800 megawatts of solar farms over 30 individual agreements across NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

His deals have so far reached $61 million, with some farmers getting almost double the value of back paddocks as Australia heads towards a mostly renewable-powered grid by 2030.

He says the sector is "really, really booming" as developers scramble to get their hands on big battery sites.

The landowner for a battery energy system being built on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula had to wait two-and-a-half years for approvals because of red tape but received almost double what his place is worth.

"The values can climb quite dramatically, which is really good for some people," Mr Moroko says.

"A lot of the time they can get 1.5 or double what their place is worth because it's a renewable energy development rather than someone just selling a vacant parcel."

Daniel Moroko has been able to strike deals in four states worth more than $60 million.

He also helps developers if an easement is needed through a neighbouring property but requirements for big transmission lines are government-run.

Nationals leader David Littleproud has slammed the renewable energy rollout as "pure insanity" and says no project should be above scrutiny "especially when it involves prime agricultural land".

He insists the bush is full and wants big solar restricted to large arrays on commercial buildings in Australia's cities.

But Mr Moroko knows farmers are giving up excess or marginal land, not prime grazing areas.

"In my experience, and I've done 30-plus deals, is that if it's really good grazing land, it's a 'no', because the money they get from grazing will be on a par if not higher than what they get for a solar farm," he says.

"If you've got excess land or back paddocks you don't use, you can get lease terms with a solar farm generating income every month for 20 or 30 years."

There's "huge demand" as governments wake up to the fact they need multiple battery energy storage sites to capture abundant sunshine and release excess back into the grid to meet peak demand.

"Lots of people say 'no' they're not interested but then if their neighbour is keen, they're really interested so they're not left out," he says.

"They want to be the ones benefiting financially."

They're happy to have a renewable energy project on land they can't see from their porch, he adds.

David Littleproud wants big solar restricted to large arrays on commercial buildings in cities.

While big battery sites must be fenced off for safety reasons, sheep can graze through solar farms.

Farmers can also negotiate a pretty good deal for maintenance of solar projects, which is also beneficial to them and the community who provide the labour for above-market rates, Mr Moroko says.

Many farmers have big parcels of suitable land and make a million dollars a year leasing out 800 to a 1000 hectares while others can do the same with a smaller portion, even just 20 hectares, and still earn six figures.

Farmers for Climate Action polling across Central Queensland, NSW's Hunter and Illawarra found widespread support for renewables in the regions. 

This followed a survey of farmers in December which found only one per cent saw transmission requirements as the top threat to their farm, while 55 per cent nominated climate change as the greatest threat to their farm.

"Income during drought is vital when you're trying to run a family farm and renewable energy delivers that," Farmers for Climate Action Chair Brett Hall says.

Typical payments being offered to farmers by wind companies are now more than $40,000 per turbine per year and many host dozens of turbines whilst still running sheep or cattle. 

Asked about noise, one survey respondent said the only sound was the "ka-ching" of the cash register with every turn of the blade.

Brett Hall: renewable energy delivers income for landholders when times are tough.

Solar companies are offering farmers around $1500 per hectare per year rent and they often continue to run sheep under the panels. 

Mr Hall says the National Farmers Federation president makes money from wind turbines on his land and so does another previous NFF president. 

But compulsory purchases by government remain controversial, including in the energy transition "chokepoint" of NSW.

Recent analysis by consultancy Green Energy Markets suggested the national target of 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030 was already at risk.

The NSW government began public consultation on Friday on a review into improving compulsory land acquisition for infrastructure.

"We want to put people in the best position to understand their legal rights and ensure there are consistent and transparent acquisition processes across government," Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper says.

He says compulsory acquisitions are necessary at times to allow state infrastructure and other public projects to proceed for the benefit of the wider community.

"However, there are opportunities to improve processes which are being explored by this review to help landowners negotiate more effectively on their compensation."

Face-to-face sessions will be held in the Hunter, North Coast, South Coast, Central West, New England and Riverina regions.


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