Solar farm plan generates community interest

LARGE CROWD: Participants asking questions and making suggestions at the CE4G Information Day held at the McDermott Centre in Goulburn last week.
LARGE CROWD: Participants asking questions and making suggestions at the CE4G Information Day held at the McDermott Centre in Goulburn last week.

THE prospect of a communityowned solar farm in the Goulburn area is gaining momentum after 150 people turned up to last Saturday’s Open Day about the idea.

Community Energy for Goulburn (CE4G) ran the Open Day to provide information to residents on a feasibility study about the project.

The plan is to build a 1MW solar farm on an industrial site off Bridge St, North Goulburn next to the railway line.

“Over 150 people attended the event to find out about the idea and to tell us what they thought,” said CE4G project Chair Peter Fraser.

He said those attending expressed their enthusiasm for the idea and a straw poll conducted on the day on whether people would invest in the project indicated it has strong support.

“There was a strong indication from participants that they were prepared to commit over $250,000 in investment into the project if it went ahead,” Mr Fraser said.

“People who had money tied up in super funds, in poor performing bank accounts, or people wanting to create endowment funds for their children, and all kinds of other circumstances, were keen to put their money into something positive that still produced a good rate of return.

“It was a great result considering this was our first public event and this figure did not include all those interested in investing.”

The estimated cost to build the solar farm was $2.5 million.

Other community solar projects are gaining traction across the ACT, NSW and QLD, with two solar farms in the Southern region of NSW including a 1MW facility at Majura in the ACT, as well as an already established 20MW solar farm beside the Monaro Highway at Royalla, just south of Canberra. 

The Royalla Solar Farm contains more than 83,000 solar panels with the capacity to power more than 4,500 homes in the ACT.

There are also solar farms located in northern NSW at Moree and Nimbin as well as a recently opened huge 102MW farm in Far West NSW at Nyngan.

Mr Frasser said community energy projects are relatively new to Australia but are commonplace in Europe and in the USA.

In Denmark, more than half of all wind farms are owned by local community groups.

“In many countries whole communities are deciding to become entirely independent of the grid by setting up their own generation and distribution systems,” he said.

Rather than just pumping the electricity back into the national grid, Mr Fraser said the idea was that the community power station could possibly sell electricity to big entities in the city such as the council or the hospital.

“They could sell it to them at a cheaper rate than they currently get from electricity retailers,” he said.

"Any leftover energy could be sold onto power companies and shareholders could then get a cut."

He said the site for the CE4G study is 1.2 ha (3 acres of land), which was an old industrial site that has been used as a fuel depot in the past.

“Being at the northern gateway to Goulburn, it certainly would enhance the image of the city if people travelling into town can see how Goulburn is embracing the 21st Century,” said Mr Fraser.

“CE4G has door-knocked in the area and we have had a positive response from residents about the idea.”

CE4G is an initiative of The Goulburn Group.

It was set up earlier this year following a $50,000 grant from the NSW Government to enable them to look into the feasibility of setting up a solar farm in the Goulburn region.

“If it is built, the 1 MW community owned solar farm will be one of the largest community owned solar farms in NSW to date,” Mr Fraser said.

CE4G will have a stall at the Lilac Markets next month, at the Parkside Markets in October as well as at the Goulburn Connects Sustainability Festival in November. 

For more information visit www.ce4g.org.au. 

ADDING COLOUR: Maton and McKenzie Brown, who attended with their parents, helping add colour to some renewable energy posters.

ADDING COLOUR: Maton and McKenzie Brown, who attended with their parents, helping add colour to some renewable energy posters.