All systems are go on a community solar farm for Goulburn after the venture secured $2.1 million in State funding.
It's been four years of hard work for Community Energy for Goulburn (CE4G) and the breakthrough has delighted president and local farmer, Ed Suttle.
"This shows that regional, community-led groups can lead the way in supporting innovation," he said.
"It gives a terrific boost to Goulburn's image as a 21st-century city, playing its part in addressing global warming."
Goulburn MP Wendy Tuckerman announced the grant under the Regional Community Energy Fund. The program is aimed at supporting energy affordability and innovation. It was one of seven projects to receive support.
The solar farm is pegged for a 2.4 hectare disused industrial site in Bridge Street, off Sydney Road. CE4G originally planned a 1.2 megawatt development but have said the rapid advance in technology and the funding would now enable a 1.8MW solar farm, importantly, with battery storage. It's estimated to power 450 homes, based on average daily consumption of 15 kWh.
The group believes it will be the first community owned solar farm with battery storage in Australia.
CE4G will match the $2.1m grant by selling shares for as little as $500, primarily to Goulburn Mulwaree residents.
"We're confident of raising the money," Mr Suttle said.
"If we don't raise it in Goulburn Mulwaree, the share offer may be expanded to other council areas or we may even borrow."
He argued that similar ventures had also taken out loans and reaped a return within three years.
The group has a database of 900 interested people, more than 100 of whom wish to invest.
Mr Suttle cited three reasons to invest: the estimated six per cent annual dividend; the opportunity to invest in renewable energy; and the fact that money would stay in Goulburn, helping to diversify the income profile.
"We're saying that return (6pc/annum) is possible. The only disclaimer is that it's dependent on the pricing for electricity we get."
A connection agreement is yet to be finalised with Essential Energy but in-principle approval is in place.
The battery storage is seen as a crucial component in stabilising the grid, thereby removing variations in electricity pricing during times of high usage and enabling higher profit.
CE4G has engaged development partner, Komo Energy, to bring the project through to its approval stages. The company will secure a contractor to build and connect the farm to the grid. Co-founder, Jonathan Prendergast said communities around the world were making change happen.
"The addition of a battery will showcase the newest technology, allow the solar farm to tap into better pricing, and operate as a solar stabiliser that will increase reliability in the grid," he said.
"We hope this will encourage more community renewable projects to include storage to help meet peak demand."
Mr Suttle said energy could be sold to Goulburn via a retailer, a power purchase agreement to a major user, on the market or a combination of some or all of these methods.
Komo Energy contacted the group after the project was put on hold 18 months ago due to what Mr Suttle said was uncertainty in the energy market.
"There was inconsistency in the federal strategy and we couldn't see any return for shareholders at that point; it was too dangerous," he said.
"The funding has changed that and we believe the NSW government is heading in the right direction (with energy policy)."
In 2016, the group commissioned a feasibility study for the project and in 2017, secured council planning approval.
Over the next four weeks, CE4G will hold a meeting with local business to explain what's needed, giving them an opportunity to tender for work when the time comes. Mr Suttle wanted as many local firms to benefit as possible.
READ MORE: Goulburn Solar Farm gets go ahead
Once the energy agreement is finalised, construction tenders will be called. Preparation work will be finalised by June 30.
"We'd like to think we'll be flicking on a switch this time next year," Mr Suttle said.
"...(This funding) is an indication of the State's intent to develop renewable energy and reduce emissions and it's so great for Goulburn...It's very exciting."
Mrs Tuckerman said the project would help people take control of their energy bills while transitioning to "a modern system."
"This innovative renewable energy project enables low-income households and renters to access renewable energy, so it's great news for the local community," she said in a statement.
"Community energy projects are a great opportunity for people to come together and work towards achieving their clean energy goals whilst bringing economic benefits to their region."
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