McCain Foods goes big on solar in Victoria, in bid to quit coal by 2025

Image: McCain Foods Australia

McCain Foods Australia will slash the grid electricity consumption of one of its Victorian sites by just under 40 per cent with the installation of an 8.2MW renewable energy system, including a massive 7MW solar array, a solar car park, and three electric vehicle chargers.

The renewable energy system, which will also include a 1.2MW waste-to-energy co-generation plant, is being installed at the frozen food giant’s Ballarat processing facility in central-western Victoria by Smart Commercial Solar.

McCain said this week that the solar component of the hybrid system was being financed through a partnership with Smart Commercial Solar under a power purchase agreement (PPA) funded by renewable investment fund, Solar Bay.

McCain’s impressively large solar system will be made up of a 17,000-panel ground-mounted array as well as a solar car park, which will provide shaded car spots and power three electric charging ports.

The co-generation anaerobic digester will use biogas produced by food waste to generate energy. McCain says the majority of the waste used for the digester was previously used as feed for pigs, meaning the new facility accounts for further reductions in emissions.

Combined, the two systems will reduce the site’s reliance on natural gas by 16 per cent, and grid power by 39 per cent.

The effort, while no doubt a no-brainer economically speaking, goes to McCain’s company-wide commitment to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, quit coal power by 2025, and switch to 100 per cent renewables by 2030

“There has never been a behind-the-meter system this dynamic in Australia, and we believe it will set a precedent for large-scale projects for other major processing businesses,” said McCain Foods’ regional president for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and China, Louis Wolthers.

“We continue to demonstrate our commitment to Growing Green and Golden – sustaining communities, local economies, farmers and jobs for generations to come. That means every day, we’re making smarter decisions to reduce our impact on the environment in Australia.”

Smart Commercial Solar’s Huon Hoogesteger said the McCain solar and co-gen system ticked all the boxes as a great financial, social and environmental investment.

“We’re proud to be involved in this industry-leading project, and we’re looking forward to seeing this become a commercial reality,” he said.

Both Solar Bay and Smart Commercial Solar have recently announced the establishment of solar buy-back schemes that aim to give companies struggling through the Covid-19 crisis an opportunity to use their rooftop solar system to unlock cash flow, get a short breather from paying bills, and then continued access to discounted power.

Smart Commercial Solar’s offering announced in April in partnership with Clear Sky Solar Investments, aims to make a “widespread buyback” of existing commercial solar systems valued at up to $2 million dollars, which would be bought at a premium of 105 per cent of the paid value if the system was under a year old.

The original owner of the solar array will then get free energy for the first six months of operation and then buy the energy generated back from the investors at costs lower than current utility prices.

Solar Bay’s own plan, announced a week earlier, is using a $350 million investment vehicle, backed by a consortium of family offices, to buy out existing solar systems from large businesses.

The fund’s investment director, Andrew Archibald, said the “Family Office” fund would offer attractive purchase prices for existing PV systems, as well as long-term energy costs below market prices to a range of businesses including ASX listed companies.

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