Australia’s first council-operated, community-funded solar farm will be operating beside a sewage treatment plant in Northern NSW by Christmas.
Lismore City Council is collaborating with Farming the Sun, a community solar energy initiative, and borrowing the money from around 40 – mostly local – community investors to build two 100kw solar plants on council land.
One will float on a settling pond at East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant, the other will be on the rooftop of Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre.
The pontoon at the East Lismore plant will be only the second floating solar system in Australia, the other being at a wastewater treatment facility owned by Northern Areas Council in Jamestown, South Australia.
The council awarded tenders for the Lismore Community Solar project on August 3.
Suntrix Commercial will design and construct the floating system, which is expected to produce around 178MWh of electricity a year and slash the council’s annual electricity bill by $24,000 and the Rainbow Power Company will build the other, which is forecast to produce around 138MWh of electricity and save $18,000 a year in bills.
Environmental Strategies Officer at Lismore City Council, Sharyn Hunnisett explains that the idea for a floating solar plant was borne out of necessity, because the council had run out of space on the land. The location also works brilliantly because the plant is the council’s heaviest electricity consumer.
“We couldn’t fit a solar system on any of the plant space,” Hunnisett says. “There’s a big expanse of water out the back and we went “ha! Let’s use that”. It means that the electricity will be used on site and you can extend the system in the future because the system is only a very small portion of the space.”
Appealing to investors to come on board has generated much enthusiasm for the project, she says.
“There has been so much interest, a really good response. When the investment launched last year it had well over 100 people registering their interest and we only needed 40. People really want it to happen.”
Hunnisett said the loan would be paid back to shareholders in seven years at 5.5 per cent interest. The council will start to make its money back in ten years.
“What’s great about the project is that the council has recognised it’s more than just a solar system. It’s a community energy project. It’s a small price to pay for leadership in sustainability.”
The council eventually hopes to generate most of the power used by the sewage treatment plant. No mean feat when you consider that the plant’s electricity bill weighs in at a massive $230,000 a year.
Lismore City Council, which has committed to being self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2023, is keen to share its experiences and expertise of community renewable energy projects with other councils and businesses who may wish to replicate the project.
Farming the Sun is intending to hold workshops for other councils and businesses to show them how to drive the business model used.
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