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Two community-funded solar projects soon to shine

One tenth of all Canberra homes have roof-top solar panels. It was hard, however, for people renting or living in apartments to reap the benefits of the solar revolution. Now, with the ACT government leading the way, everyone has the opportunity to pool their resources and fund large-scale solar projects.

On 29 June, 160 people crowded into a theatre at ANU to hear more about being part of this new movement:  community-funded solar power. It’s new in Australia but not in Europe or the US where such projects have been going for at least a decade.

Australia can boast a couple of community-owned wind farms: the Hepburn one near Daylesford in Victoria, and the other at Denmark in WA. There must be something in a name, because the country Denmark is the leader in the field, with more than half of its renewable energy production (mainly wind) run by the community.

As for community solar farms, however, Australia is in catch-up mode. Nevertheless, people are keen to sign up. Even before the June meeting, 400 people, promising anywhere between $50 and $10,000 each, had registered to invest in SolarShare Community Energy Majura Solar Farm.

While the Royalla solar farm on the Monaro Highway is much bigger, this will be Australia’s biggest solar farm actually owned by members of the community. Two thirds of the $3 million project will be funded by equity and the remainder by a loan from the Bendigo Bank.

400 people have promised to invest between $50 and $10,000 each in SolarShare Community Energy Majura Solar Farm.

Located on a three hectare site owned by Majura vineyards, and situated between the old Majura Road and the new by-pass, the solar farm will produce enough power for 250 Canberra homes, abating 1600 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

“The feed-in tariff funded by the ACT government will provide 20 cents per kilowatt hour (20c/kWh) for 20 years,” SolarShare’s project leader Lawrence McIntosh told The Bulletin. This is slightly more than the 18c/kWh that Canberra homeowners pay for electricity.  Profits from the sale of electricity – around $360,000 a year – will be returned to investors.

“We now have the initial approvals and are about to enter the fund-raising stages, the first next week and a major one in September. We will have the final documents to the ACT government by the end of this year and hope to begin building in April, with completion in the third quarter,” says McIntosh.

Goulburn regional solar farm getting underway, spell out advantages of community energy

Meanwhile, Clean Energy for Goulburn (CE4G) has submitted a development application for a 1.2 MW solar farm on the outskirts of Goulburn. The Chair of CE4G, Peter Fraser, is envious of the seed funding awarded to SolarShare by the ACT government.

“The ACT government can see the advantages of community owned energy, but apart from a few encouraging words from government ministers, the NSW government seem unable to even understand what this innovation might mean for energy generation,” says Fraser.

In setting up a community-run energy project, you first need a feasibility study. Goulburn launched it in style on 4 June with Dr John Hewson, academic, economist and well known political commentator. He launched CE4G’s feasibility study in front of over 150 people who had come to hear him give advice on the subject of energy finance.

According to Fraser, there is a big pay-off for governments in supporting community energy projects because they take pressure out of peak demand and thus reduce the need for further large scale generation and distribution.

“The advantage in this kind of distributive energy is that it reduces the need for significant government investment in infrastructure. Governments can leverage off the work of volunteers at a very low cost,” he says.

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