A proposal to build what would be Australia’s largest community-owned solar farm in Canberra’s Majura Valley is seeking the approval of the ACT government, after plans for its development were submitted this week.
The proposal is for a 1MW solar array on a 3.5 hectare site owned by the Mount Majura Vineyard, alongside a 2MW commercial solar project already under development by SolarChoice.
The $6.5 million Solar Choice farm will feature a California-made QBotix robotic tracking system, where self-charging, track-mounted robots help the solar arrays track the sun throughout the day to gain maximum exposure to its rays.
The smaller SolarShare project would be Australia’s largest community-owned solar farm, producing around 1.9GWh of renewable electricity each year from its 5,500 solar panels – enough energy to power up to 250 homes.
The idea, says SolarShare, is to give ACT residents the opportunity to co-own a large-scale solar electricity farm that will contribute to the territory’s ambitious clean energy goals while creating a financial return for local investors.
“By investing in SolarShare, Canberra residents will gain stronger connections to local renewable energy projects and their community,” said SolarShare project leader Lawrence McIntosh.
“SolarShare already has strong local support with more than $2 million pledged by over 360 community supporters, and there’s still room for more expressions of interest from ACT residents.”
Community solar, while big in Europe and taking off in the US, has been slower to catch on in Australia.
One of Australia’s first, and largest, community-owned examples – the 30kW Tathra Community Solar Farm on the NSW south coast – was launched in March.
One of the biggest positives of community renewable energy projects is considered to be the role they have in educating the broader public about the benefits of renewable energy, while allowing them the opportunity to become players in the energy market. Certainly, community-owned projects tend to meet less resistance at a local level when it comes to getting development approval.
Obviously, the owner of Mt Majura vineyard, Frank van der Loo, is already a fan: “Combined with landscaping, solar farms provide a productive use for land not currently used for grape growing,” he said.
“We see a positive relationship between landowners, local produce, sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism and new innovative models of solar energy ownership,” said Sherry McArdle-English, President of the Majura Valley Landcare Group.
The SolarShare proposal follows the ACT government’s latest call for expressions of interest to develop another 50MW of solar generation capacity in the Territory.
The EOI is aimed at guiding the ACT on how to structure its next auction and, more particularly, which “next generation” technologies to focus on; large-scale solar PV with storage, solar towers with storage, etc.
“Our investment in next generation renewable energy technology is an important part of our target of 90 per cent renewable energy by 2020 but it is also critical in continuing the growth of renewable energy jobs and investment in the ACT,” Canberra environment minister Simon Corbell said.
SolarShare says it expects the results of the application process to the ACT government could be determined by around August this year.