Uproar over gum trees cleared for new 'green' energy project

A new 4300 panel solar farm is being built to help an Aussie university reach net zero by 2029, but planners have controversially flattened a 3.8 hectare site.

Mature native trees across a 3.8 hectare site have been cleared to make way for a new ‘green’ solar energy project, sparking an uproar over the seemingly "contradictory" act.

In an image shared anonymously online last week, remnants of eucalyptus trees can be seen piled behind a high fence at La Trobe University in Victoria. The post led to hundreds of reactions on social media, with many questioning the decision to remove the trees as doing so releases carbon into the environment.

"Crazy logic," one person wrote. "Something seems off here," another mused. Others questioned why the solar panels hadn't instead been placed on rooftops or above car parks.

An image showing felled trees behind a fence.
Trees have been cleared across a 3.8 hectare site to make way for a new solar farm at LaTrobe University. Source: Facebook

La Trobe University responds to concerns about tree felling

The clearing was undertaken at La Trobe University’s Bundoora Campus in Melbourne's north to create the state’s largest urban solar farm — a 4300 panel, 2.9 megawatt energy system.

A spokesperson for the university told Yahoo News Australia the solar farm is being built to help it achieve net zero emissions by 2029.

Because the site was cleared during bird breeding season, there has been some community concern about the welfare of wildlife that had been living at the site. While LaTrobe did not respond directly to a question from Yahoo News about what fauna had been utilising the site, it said a zoologist was engaged to survey the site.

“It was found that there was little indication of native fauna at the site, the zoologist captured and rehomed them to the nearest suitable habitat,” it said.

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University says project site was 'full of weeds'

Addressing opposition to the removal of such large trees, LaTrobe said none of them had “special significance”.

“A biodiversity assessment of the site determined that the existing trees and vegetation had limited biodiversity value. The vegetation was self-sown, full of weeds,” it said.

While the university has not disclosed how many mature trees it cleared, it says it plans to add 40,000 plants and over 600 trees “to improve the biodiversity of the site”.

This isn't the first time this year trees at the university campus have become the subject of concern. In August, LaTrobe stepped in to axe a plan by its building manager to chop down a 400-year-old tree next to one of its buildings.

An aerial view of the 3.8 hectare site. The digitally altered image shows the rows of planned solar panels at La Trobe University
LaTrobe University plans to construct 4300 solar panels at its Bundoora campus. Source: LaTrobe

Other 'green' energy projects sparking concern across Australia

LaTrobe University's solar farm is one of several “green energy” projects to spark controversy in Australia this year.

In Far North Queensland hundreds of hectares of threatened species habitat is earmarked for destruction by energy companies planning to build large-scale wind farms.

The issue made headlines in April when tech giant Apple boldly pulled out of a $1 billion wind farm project associated with mining mogul Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, because of concerns about its impact on endangered koalas and gliders.

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