A FORMER rock ‘n roller, a farmer with a fine singing voice, and a few “cluey” people won wide praise on Saturday for what could be Australia’s first community owned energy project.
Community Energy for Goulburn (CE4G) launched its solar farm project before some 150 people at the Workers Club.
Former federal Liberal leader, current economist and renewable energy advocate John Hewson did the honours.
As a major investor in the industry, he has taken a keen interest in the initiative over the past 18 months.
“While governments are dithering around on climate change policy and renewable energy, you are getting in and doing it,” he told the crowd.
“…You are at the cutting edge of what is going to happen in the future.
You are streets ahead of government policy.
“Prime Minister Turnbull talks about innovation, well, it’s happening right here.”
Goulburn MP Pru Goward also heartedly endorsed the community push.
A steering committee, comprising Peter and Mhairi Fraser, Bill Wilkes, Alex Ferrara, Sonya Smythe, Ed Suttle and Nestor Ellinopoullos has been working on the solar farm concept solidly for the past 18 months.
A six-member technical team, including former Divall’s chief engineer John De Groote and Australian Solar Council CEO Steve Blume have added their expertise.
The group has planned a $2.7 million, 51 per cent community owned solar farm at North Goulburn.
It would comprise 400 panels located on a former fuel depot site on Bridge St (off Sydney Rd), owned by Divall’s.
Andy Divall originally suggested the idea but Mr Fraser said it coincided nicely with The Goulburn Group’s thinking.
CE4G is an offshoot of the Group.
“Divall’s wanted to put their money where their mouth is and suggested a partnership,” he told the Post.
Mr Fraser said what started as a one megawatt per hour farm, had grown to 1.2MW/h in 12 months, using the same number of panels and at the same cost.
This was thanks to giant leaps in technology.
At a minimum, it could power 400 homes but was capable of much more, given technological changes and expansion.
“We are proposing to set up a business owned by the community, managed by the community and profits generated will remain in the community,” he told the crowd.
On Saturday, the results of a feasibility study were revealed.
“(It) confirms that the Goulburn Community Solar Farm is feasible based on the information available at the time of the study,” the document concludes.
“CE4G recommends that the project progress to the development phase.”
CE4G has already become an incorporated body to facilitate this.
The study also recommends: * A minimum 51pc of equity be sourced from the community;
* Commercial developer interest be limited to 49pc equity;
* That CE4G pursue funding for the development phase;
* That any community investment raised prior to signing a construction contract be held in trust until development milestones are complete;
* That a board of directors drawn from the community be appointed to manage the solar farm;
* That CE4G facilitate establishment of a legal entity including an organisational structure, rules, decision making parameters and a business model;
* The incorporated body would also be charged with investigating other community energy projects to benefit a wide range of groups in Goulburn, including lowincome households.
Investors line up
Mr FRASER said he’d already fielded strong interest from individuals and companies, including an international one, about investing in the farm.
“We had an information day about nine months ago, which about 100 people attended,” he said.
“We asked whether they were interested in investing and if so, how much.
We had about $300,000 committed.
Some were talking about investing up to $50,000 from their super funds.
Another wanted it as a debenture for their grandkids.”
Interest has also emerged from companies in the ACT, Victoria, Sydney and Newcastle.
Grants could also offset costs.
While the group has set a 51pc community- owned threshold, Mr Fraser said it could turn out to be more.
The authors estimate a 5.1pc individual return, based on $1.8m community investment.
The study anticipated $1.7m would need to be borrowed for construction, but this could also be reduced with greater community ownership.
On this front, Mr Fraser said the business case “stacked up.”
Work is now underway on the next steps.
Local planning consultancy, Laterals, has prepared a development application soon to be lodged with Council.
A technical study on grid connection must also be completed.
But for CE4G the signs are positive.
“The problem is the government in Australia is not doing a lot about renewable energy and there is frustration in the community about that,” Mr Fraser said.
“Once we heard what was happening in countries like Germany, Scotland, the US and Denmark, it inspired us to think if they can do that, we can do it too.”
The full feasibility study can be viewed at www.ce4g.org.au.
• More to come in Wednesday’s Goulburn Post.