Harvesting the sun: Farmers shift to solar to take the power back

When Australia’s biggest horticulture company, Costa Group, last week revealed plans to build its own solar and storage plant as part of a major company expansion, it caught media attention as the latest big industrial – see Sun Metals, Tesltra – to take power supply, and costs, into their own hands.
But a separate story this week, flagging the extension of a green loan facility first launched two years ago by NAB and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, paints another picture – one of a broader shift taking place across the nation’s entire agribusiness sector into solar and other energy efficient technologies.

As we reported here, the CEFC announced on Tuesday that it had committed a further $180 million to the $120 million it had committed two years ago to NAB’s Energy Efficient Bonus program.
The loan scheme, which was a huge success the first time around, offers NAB customers a 0.7 per cent discount on its standard equipment finance rate for loans for eligible clean energy investments, including solar PV, efficient irrigation and refrigeration systems and processing line improvements.
But as NAB pointed out, it was particularly popular among farmers, with 87 per cent of the initial $120 million in finance used by the bank’s small and medium agribusiness customers, looking – like Coast Group – to cut grid power costs and boost productivity through more efficient operating practices.
“After surveying 5,000 of our farmers for two consecutive years, 85 per cent told us they saw energy costs as a significant business risk,” said Khan Horne, NAB’s general manager agribusiness.
“So we’re helping our customers transition to more sustainable business models and, particularly for intensive agriculture, significantly reducing their energy and water bills,” he said.
And with the 75-100kW commercial solar sector named by the Clean Energy Council in May as the fastest growing PV sector in Australia right now, the second round of the Energy Efficient Bonus scheme is bound to be popular among farmers, too.
Among the first round of the scheme’s customers, were Chris Georgopoulos and Jimmy Kalafatis from GV Storage in Shepparton, Victoria, who installed a huge 508kW rooftop solar system that is expected to generate more than 65 per cent of the energy needs for their fruit growing, packing, storing and distributing business.
“As second generation farmers growing apples and pears and currently processing 66,000 bins of fruit per year, we require a massive amount of power, so we investigated solar and found that it is definitely the way to go,” Georgopoulos said.
As well as cutting the company’s grid-power usage by two-thirds, NAB says the solar system’s 1,916 panels will also generate more than 650,000kWh of green energy a year, making GV Storage eligible to receive LGC income credits under the federal Renewable Energy Target.
A smaller solar system, pictured above, was also installed through the loan facility by wine makers Tahbilk. A 100kW system was installed any the company’s historic family-owned winery in Nagambie, Victoria, which produces and exports more than 100,000 cases of wind a year.
According to NAB, the new solar system is expected to provide around 15-20 per cent of the wine maker’s power needs, and will also help maintain Tahbilk’s carbon neutral verification status with New Zealand’s carboNZero program.

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