Coal mine turned solar farm powers through bushfires, earns Newcastle council $420k

A solar farm built on a disused landfill and former coal mine site has paid dividends for the New South Wales City of Newcastle, not only helping to take the local council to 100 per cent renewables but generating almost twice the annual revenue that was predicted.

Newcastle City Council said last week that the $8 million, 5MW solar farm at the City’s Summerhill Waste Management Centre had generated more than $420,000 in revenue between mid-November and the end of April, well above original business-case forecasts of $250,000 a year.

Newcastle’s Summerhill Solar Farm, built with the help of a $6.5 million loan from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, was commissioned in the second half of 2019 as part of the local government’s plan to source 100% renewable electricity for all of its operations – a goal it achieved on the first day of 2020.

As Newcastle City Council’s Adam Clarke explains here, alongside more solar, battery storage and a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Sapphire Wind Farm, the relatively small Summerhill Solar Farm has been the “crowning jewel” in building a resilient energy strategy.

In January this year, the solar farm was placed on spot market pricing as part of its new contracting arrangements after detailed analysis and modelling predicted this approach could achieve significant financial savings for Council. And this thinking was soon proved correct.

Selling Summerhill’s solar power back into the grid saw the Council become a net exporter of electricity when the January bush fires damaged the state’s electricity network, the council confirmed last week. (You can read about this in detail here.)

And the PPA with Sapphire, which came into effect on January 01, saved the City a further $30,000.

“The business case showed the solar farm would save rate payers around $9 million, after costs, over its 25-year lifespan – and so far, it’s on track to do even better,” Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

“The solar farm at our Summerhill Waste Management Centre has helped us exceed our renewable energy goals under the Newcastle 2020 Carbon and Water Management Action Plan, which targeted 30 per cent of our electricity needs from low-carbon sources.

“By combining solar installations, battery storage and the purchase agreement to power all our operations, the City has created a resilient energy strategy that will protect us from future electricity price spikes.

“Working in concert with the power purchase agreement, these investments give us price stability, create financial savings for rate payers and have already enabled us to reduce our operational carbon emissions by 77 per cent, compared to the 2008 baseline.”

The Climate Council’s David Craven, who is the director of the Cities Power Partnership, described the Summerhill solar farm as a “fantastic accomplishment” by a local government – and a local government whose city used to depend heavily on coal.

“City of Newcastle has again stepped up as leader in renewables and as a leader amongst local governments taking significant action on climate,” Craven said.

“Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new energy generation and is proving to save Novocastrians millions, while creating a healthy future for this community.”

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