Call for investors as 4.9MW Manilla community solar farm officially launched

Photo credit: Farm Online

Residents and business in the regional New South Wales town of Manilla are being offered the opportunity to invest in a community-owned solar farm, with the official launch of a 4.9MW PV array with plans for battery storage.

The project is being developed by the Manilla Community Renewable Energy Co. in partnership with Providence Asset Group, as the first of up to 30 similar community solar initiatives Providence plans to roll out across regional Australia.

The renewables investment outfit said on Monday that construction of the grid-connected Manilla solar farm was expected to start in June 2020, with electricity generation expected by April 2021.

Providence said the grid connection would allow access to the local community, as well as the wider energy market, while the battery storage would create “further opportunities for the sale of the power that’s generated.”

For those locals who want to buy in to the Manilla Solar Project, the cost is $1000 per share. As Manilla Community Renewable Energy points out in a Facebook post, this amounts to just $20 a week put aside from now until November 2020, when investments close. Full product disclosure will be available in the new year.

Manilla Community Renewable Energy (MCRE) formed in 2013 with the aim of developing a community-owned project, and early this year joined forces with Providence Asset Group.

It marks one of many such projects in the making around Australia, as communities look for ways to access cheap solar power beyond the rooftop.

Earlier this year, plans to build a 1.8MW community solar farm in the NSW Southern Tablelands town of Goulburn – also including the potential addition of battery storage – secured a development contract with local outift Komo Energy.

Komo Energy – which was co-founded by occasional RenewEconomy contributor Jonathan Prendergast – said the deal would see it finalise property, planning and procurement of EPC services for the solar farm, and ready it for community investment.

MCRE president, Emma Stilts, said the formal announcement of the launch of the Manilla solar farm was a highly satisfying achievement at the end of what had been a “long journey.”

“Community members and businesses will now have the chance to invest in the project, with the knowledge the electricity produced will be sold to locals at a cheaper rate than retail electricity, and that a portion of all profits will come back to the Manilla community.”

Providence, meanwhile, says it is currently working towards helping to develop up to 30 more community-owned solar farms across NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

“We are thrilled Manilla is the first project to be officially launched and it’s been a pleasure working with people who share our belief in the potential of renewable energy to improve the well-being of communities and the environment – now and for future generations,” said Providence Asset Group CEO Henry Sun in comments.

“It’s also an ideal example of communities thinking innovatively to help shape their futures and expand the prospect for more employment opportunities and economic benefits,” Sun said.

“With the price of electricity from traditional energy sources rising, solar farms like the one we’re establishing at Manilla are going to become increasingly important.

“This community model represents a ‘win-win’ for both the host community in the form of cheaper power and money back into the area, and the investors who are guaranteed an attractive investment return.”

It’s worth noting that the project is yet another renewable energy generator to be built in the New England electorate of former deputy PM and current special envoy for drought assistance and recovery, Barnaby Joyce.

A massive expansion of the White Rock wind farm near the New England town of Glen Innes was approved late last week.

As the director for business and community for Tamworth Regional Council, John Sommerlad, noted in comments about Manilla solar farm on Monday, this project is just the kind of medicine his drought-affected constituents really need.

“The current drought has illustrated just how important it is for our region to diversify its industries for the benefit of our local economy, and this project is the perfect example of this,” Sommerlad said.

“The potential employment opportunities for local contractors and businesses during the construction phase, and beyond, is great news and the financial and economic returns will flow well into the future.”

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