Lismore community solar plant switched on, marking Australian first

One of Australia’s first community-funded, council operated solar farms is up and running this week, after the switching on of a 99kW rooftop PV system at the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre in Lismore, NSW.
The huge solar array, installed by local outfit Rainbow Power, is one of two community-based projects coordinated by Farming the Sun and the Lismore City Council, and funded using a unique purpose-built financial model.
Money for the projects – the second is a 99kW floating solar system at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment plant – were raised by two community companies, each with 20 local investors. The money was then loaned to Lismore Council to build the solar farms.
The projects are also the first ever council-operated and community-funded solar farms in Australia and are flagship projects for Council’s 2023 Renewable Energy Master Plan.
Adam Blakester, who is project director of Farming the Sun, said the community response to the investment offers, which were launched in June 2016, was “swift and positive.”
“It was clear within the first 10 days that the two investment offers would be fully subscribed,” Blakester said at the time. Indeed, the scheme received enough applications to fund an additional solar farm in its entirety.
“We are pleased to report that both projects have a majority of local investors from the Northern Rivers,” said Blakester in comments last August.
“The balance of investors have come from right around the country and represent a strategic mix of shareholders and linkages with the community energy and sustainable investment sectors.”
According to Lismore Council, the shareholders of the two projects will see a return on investment slightly better than that of a bank.
The floating solar system, which is being designed by local outfit Suntrix and should be completed by the end of July, is expected to be largest floating solar farm in Australia so far.
As we have reported before on One Step, floating solar – adopted in Lismore largely due to spatial constraints – is particularly well suited to water treatment facilities, with their large bodies of relatively still water.
As well as helping to power the notoriously energy-intensive facilities, the cooling properties of water can also help the solar panels last longer and perform better, while increased shade over the pond reduces evaporation and algal growth.
Indeed, Australia’s first floating solar plant was launched by Infratech Industries in April 2015 at a waste water treatment facility owned by Northern Areas Council, as the first phase of a planned $12 million, 4MW system.
At the time, Infratech’s Adelaide-based director, Felicia Whiting, said the PV installation would not only meet the energy needs of the treatment plant at a 15 per cent lower cost than grid electricity, but would generate 57 per cent more power than land-based PV systems.
Since then, a number of other councils and water companies around Australia have made move to install a variety of different renewable energy technologies – including ground-mounted solar and wind turbines – at their water treatment and sewage plants.
And in April this year, the City of Gold Coast, in Queensland said it was weighing up a proposal to install a series of floating solar PV arrays on the network of wastewater ponds throughout the local government area.
As for the Lismore projects, an official opening will be hosted once both installations are up and running.
Farming the Sun says their success offers “tangible proof” of the strength of support for renewables – from community investors and philanthropists as well as professional advisors and more.
Its community energy model is now being made freely available under a Creative Commons Licence to other Councils and community energy groups to develop their own solar and sustainable energy projects.

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