News and Media

1 week ago in Media release , Sustainability
(12/8/2019) The West gets it wrong in solar attack

A response from Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt to Paul Murray’s opinion piece published in The West Australian on Saturday 10 August:

The West Australian has published another misleading and inaccurate diatribe by Paul Murray (Tipping point for solar plan, 10 August 2019), this time attacking the City of Fremantle’s efforts to establish a solar farm on the former South Fremantle tip site.

Before addressing the main issue of the solar farm, Mr Murray couldn’t resist having another dig at the City’s sustainability credentials. 

Mr Murray claims the City of Fremantle’s carbon emissions have increased 49 per cent since 2009. This is incorrect.

Where Mr Murray has got it wrong is that he has confused carbon offsets purchased by the City with our emissions.

Previously the City purchased ‘green’ energy from Synergy at a premium price, as well as carbon offsets to offset other emissions like fleet vehicles. The Council made the very rational decision in 2013 to stop buying expensive green energy and instead buy cheaper ‘black’ energy along with additional carbon offsets. We used the money we saved to invest in our own renewable energy.

The purchase of these additional offsets has not only resulted in more than 150,000 trees being planted in degraded areas of the Wheatbelt to offset the City’s carbon emissions, but it has also been more cost effective for our ratepayers – something I would have thought The West Australian would applaud.

And while the amount of offsets purchased by the City now compared with 2009 has gone up, the City’s emissions have actually gone down. This could have been simply explained but Mr Murray didn’t bother to ask.

As for the solar farm itself, the main concern seems to be that the former South Fremantle tip is a contaminated site.

This is not news. We know it’s a contaminated site. It has been for decades.

If it wasn’t a contaminated site it would have had houses built on it, or it would have been turned into a sporting field.

The whole point of the solar farm project is to make productive use of a site that would otherwise remain a wasteland.

The management plans for the solar farm have been approved by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, the Department of Health and an independent contaminated sites auditor.

The City made getting approval from these agencies a condition of the project in order to safeguard the community. We have always said this project would only proceed if it could be done safely, and the expert advice says that it can.

A solar farm would be a light touch, with the panels specially designed to sit on the surface of the soil. There would be minimal disturbance of the soil and no disturbance of the contamination buried underneath.

Far from being a bombshell, the presence of quarantine waste at the tip site is well known. Previous site investigation reports commissioned by the City refer to the use of the site by AQIS for the deep burial of quarantine waste and these reports were considered in preparing the Site Management Plan for the solar farm.

Nevertheless, the City is checking with state government health and environmental agencies if they require more information about the safe management of quarantine waste, and will ensure that any further advice is complied with.

The issue of ‘glint and glare’ was considered by the City as part of the development approval. The simple response is that photovoltaic cells are designed to absorb light, not reflect it. 

Mr Murray also referenced the public information session which had been ‘strangely cancelled’.

This session was postponed, not cancelled, because most of the questions the City and solar farm developer Epuron were being asked were about technical aspects of the construction of the project. It made sense to delay the meeting until a construction contractor was appointed by Epuron so they could be available to answer those questions. Nothing strange, just common sense.

The West Australian has now published three opinion pieces by Paul Murray attacking me and the City of Fremantle, and yet not once has he asked me any questions or sought my comments. Worse still, when I sent my own response to The West Australian after the first attack piece they refused to publish it.

I have no problem being asked legitimate questions or with the City’s operations being scrutinised, but I expect a fair right of reply. Considering Paul Murray is the former editor of this once esteemed publication I would have expected higher journalistic standards.

It’s sad to see that Perth’s one and only daily newspaper has sunk to such depths.