Australia’s first solar farms to be co-owned by local government and the community could be completed by the end of the year, with the Lismore City Council set to launch a campaign to attract investors to the project in north-eastern NSW.
The campaign will launch on Thursday June 11, just six months after council approved the project, which it will develop alongside community energy specialist, Farming the Sun.
Potential investors in Lismore Community Solar – a flagship project building on Lismore’s plans to become the first regional council to be 100 per cent renewable by 2023 – will be asked to ‘pledge’ in-principle support by registering interest for a share in the project
The plan, which was first put together by Starfish Initiatives, is to build two100kW solar farms in Lismore – one at Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre and the other at East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant.
Two community-owned companies will be established under the banner of Lismore Community Solar – one for eachsolar farm – and raise money from investors. The money will then be lent to the council to build the solar farm, and council will repay that loan over a seven year term.
According to Starfish’s Adam Blakester, it is tapping in to what he describes as “a groundswell of sustainability and renewable energy work” across the Northern Rivers region, including one of the highest uptakes of residential solar power, the North Coast Energy Forum, Sustain Northern Rivers and Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.
“This is an investment in change,” Blakester told RenewEconomy in an interview late last year – “the greatest gain for investors being their profile and influence on the transition to renewable energy, plus a reasonable return on investment to boot.
Blakester says the launch of the investor campaign next week hopes to attract around 40 investors “who see themselves taking on, or building on, a high profile leadership role in renewable energy and sustainability” – some of which will also be required to take on directorship roles for the two community companies that are set up.
“We’re not asking investors to hand over any money just yet, but rather we need to identify those who are genuinely interested so that we can be confident that there is a solid pool of investors to draw on when the prospectus goes live,” he said
“This local impact investment model is an innovation of the Farming the Sun team and is being applied for the very first time in Lismore,” Adam said.
“This model is simple and low-risk with clear results, which is attractive for local government because it provides surety for the community and for investors. We are launching an innovation in how councils and community do business, with both financial and clean energy returns.”
Once investors have made pledges for Lismore Community Solar, the business model will go before Council for final adoption in late 2015. If adopted, a prospectus will go live for share offers.
The Lismore Community Solar investor pledge campaign launch is on Thursday, 11 June, from 5.15 for a 5.30pm start at the Lismore Workers Club. Interested people should contact Lismore Community Solar Coordinator Susanna Carpi, email@example.com.