The development of Australia’s first solar farms to be co-owned by local government and the community is coming closer to fruition, with the launch next week of the investment offer for the two 100kW projects in Lismore, in north-eastern New South Wales.
The Lismore Community Solar projects, which were put together by Starfish Initiatives, are being launched at the same time on Tuesday June 28 – you can register your interest on the Farming The Sun website here.
Each community company will release a private investment offer to raise funds to lend to Lismore City Council, who in turn will build and operate the solar farms.
The projects include one 100kW rooftop PV installation at the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre and another at East Lismore Sewerage Treatment Plant, which once built will be Australia’s largest floating solar PV plant.
The solar farms are flagship projects for Lismore City Council, which is the first regional council in Australia to commit to making its electricity supply 100 per cent renewable, which it aims to do by 2023.
For Starfish, the projects are an “investment in change”, giving the local community an opportunity to influence Australia’s transition to renewable energy, as well as a reasonable return on investment.
“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,” Starfish’s Adam Blakester told RenewEconomy in 2014.
“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.”
And there appears to be a lot of interest. Just over a year ago, a campaign was launched to identify the amount of locals “genuinely interested” in investing in the projects, which collected a huge 175 pledges.
According to the website, the aim is for the two solar farms to be funded by up to 20 impact investors, or 40 in total, by way of two $180,000 loans to Lismore City Council.
The call for investors will remain open until 22 August 2016, or close sooner if fully subscribed.
For the council’s part, the tenders for the two projects have been closed. And while the sports centre array, which will include a energy monitoring display screen in the building’s foyer, should generate plenty of community interest, it is the floating solar at the sewerage plant that has captured people’s imaginations.
Back in April, Lismore Council’s environmental strategies officer Sharyn Hunnisett said the idea for a floating system was born of necessity.
“It basically came about because of spatial concerns – we simply didn’t have enough roof or land space at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant. Then it hit us – we have this huge body of water, why not use that?”
The settling ponds at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant provide a large body of water with low velocity, perfect for a floating solar farm.
“This concept resolves the major site constraint of land/roof space and results in further benefits including optimal operation and longevity of the panels due to lower temperatures, minimising evaporation, and algal growth on the pond,” Hunnisett said.