I was FRV’s Development Lead for the Chaff Mill Solar Farm, a renewable energy project proposed for the Mintaro region of the Clare Valley in South Australia. FRV commissioned Air Environment to assist the project’s development application process in March 2019. They conducted an assessment of the local climatology, and the potential for the project to affect cold air drainage flows, leading to increased frost damage to neighbouring agricultural properties.
The local community surrounding the proposed solar farm site identified frost formation as a key issue for agriculture in the region. In response to the project’s initial Development Application Report, submissions from neighbouring property owners suggested that the solar panel array and the site’s boundary security fence had the potential to affect cold air drainage flow patterns across the regional landscape. This, they argued, could lead to an increased risk of frost damage to the crops growing on properties upwind of the solar farm site.
Air Environment, conducted a range of complex and innovative analyses including topographical modelling, slope and drainage flow analysis, and review of regional meteorological observations. They then developed a fine scale meteorological model of the local area to identify flows occurring during potential frost events and to describe their effects. Finally, they determined the potential for flows to be blocked by the fence surrounding the proposed farm and by the solar panel array itself.
Air Environment’s Director and Principal Consultant, Andrew Balch, also provided expert evidence and support to FRV at a public hearing of the South Australia Planning Commission in June 2019. At the hearing, the commission heard from the proponent, environmental and planning experts and the local community on the potential effects of the proposed renewable energy project. Andrew clearly presented a summary of his assessment of the local meteorological flows and work on frost generation potential before answering technical questions put forth by the public and commissioners.
Throughout the investigation I found the Air Environment team of Andrew Balch and Michael Power to be highly professional. They understood the unusual nature of the local community’s claims and following a data-led approach were able to thoroughly investigate the issue using a variety of innovative approaches. They provided clear and robust information with confidence allowing FRV to make strategic decisions and pass the information on to the Planning Commission and community. Air Environment’s evidence, presented both in written form and as testimony before the Planning Commission Panel, proved to be authoritative and highly defensible. It played a key role in obtaining the subsequent approval of the Chaff Mill Solar Farm Project in January 2020.
I would recommend Air Environment for any matter involving the detailed analysis and interpretation of meteorological data and the development of atmospheric meteorological models. In particular they have proved to be flexible in following a complex and uncertain data trail to a successful conclusion, and are expert in presenting their results in clearly written and authoritative reports and in testifying within tribunal settings.