An artist impression of the Coolum solar farm.
An artist impression of the Coolum solar farm.

Revealed: How council paid double for solar farm land

SUNSHINE Coast Council paid $1.65million on May 1 for a flood-prone block of cane land that sold less than two years ago for just $770,000.

The 49 ha parcel of land off Coolum-Yandina Road was originally owned by the late Col Turner and his wife Lyn.

TheTurners sold the property on September 9, 2012, to Gruenenergy after which it was immediately on sold for $1.1m to Akerman Enterprises acting as trustee for the Akerman Family Trust.

The two transactions are listed on the same document in a process known as transfer by direction.

Gruenenergy had the previous month signed a 20-year lease on the land with three options each of 10 years. That document was lodged on October 24, 2012.

Less than two months later on December 13 council passed a motion moved by Cr Steve Robinson and seconded by Cr Tim Dwyer that the CEO prepare a report updating councillors on progress in relation to the future construction of the solar farm.

That report, presented to the ordinary meeting on January 31, 2013, in closed session, was a business case for council taking over the project.

SOLAR LAND PURCHASE AND TRUST DEED

SOLAR LEASE DOCUMENT

AMENDED SOLAR LEASE DOCUMENT

SOLAR TRANSFER TO COUNCIL

Titled Solar Farm Business Case it claimed that the one particular block of land in the midst of the entire Yandina-Coolum flood plain - most of which is for sale - was the only viable site for the project.

It argued that Gruenergy's proposal which had failed to attract commercial support was the only alternative energy plan that could deliver savings on council's energy bill.

What was impossible for commercial interests to make stack up, would now work because of plummeting solar panel prices and council's low borrowing costs.

Councillors were told Gruenenergy was the original developer "and current tenants of the Valdora site and was looking to leverage their initial development of the solar farm concept and design at Valdora into future developments".

Councillors unanimously agreed that CEO, John Knaggs, should further analyse the project with the intent that council construct its own commercial scale solar farm on the site raising debt funding of $23m to accomplish the goal.

Council has refused to justify the sale price or what if any amount it has paid Gruenenergy.

It has claimed commercial in confidence considerations prevent it from doing so.

According to documents Gruenenergy remains the leaseholder and retains an option to purchase the property for the price paid by council.

The lease requires it to pay the landlord, now council, $95,000 a year increasing by 3% annually.

The stamp duty of $94,875 which council paid on May 1 is around double that which would have been required for the land purchase price and suggests there were other elements to the deal that remain hidden.

Yandina real estate agent Nev Kane who has been selling cane land for the past 50 years was astounded by the price council has paid for the property.

The problem he normally faced was vendor expectation exceeding the market's willingness to pay.

The Turners began dealing with Jason Hague, a former council town planner, and property developer/real estate agent Rob Marchant, before Mr Hague submitted a development application to council in February 2011 for a solar farm on the site.

They were anxious to sell because of Mr Turner's poor health.

They had been told by agents they would never achieve the $850,000 price they had hoped for.

A development application for a solar farm on the site was submitted in February 2011 by former council town planner Jason Hague in the name Energy Parks Australia.

It was approved mid year 2011.

Mr Hague ran for Division Three in the last Sunshine Coast local government election with the support of retiring Councillor Keryn Jones and Cr Dwyer who represents the neighbouring Division Two.

A 16.22ha piece of cane land immediately adjacent the site purchased by council has been on the market listed at $400,000 for more than two years without attracting any interest.


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