Construction has begun on a 5MW solar farm in the New South Wales city of Newcastle that will transform a disused landfill and former coal mine into a renewable power station that will supply all of the local government’s daytime power needs.
Works officially kicked off on Tuesday, with a turning of the sod at the site at the Summerhill Waste Management Centre – a capped landfill that was once part of the Wallsend Borehole Colliery.
The project, which is being developed by Lend Lease and Carnegie Clean Energy, marks the City’s largest single investment in renewables, as it works to cut its energy costs, which had doubled to $4 million a year over the past two years.
That effort has included putting rooftop solar installations on the Council’s Waratah Works Depot, Art Gallery, three libraries, two sports grounds, and the Newcastle Museum.
The Summerhill Solar Farm, meanwhile, joins a 2.2MW landfill gas generator and a small wind turbine already installed at the waste facility.
But the $8 million new PV project – which is being built with the help of a $6.5 million loan from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – will boost Newcastle’s renewables capacity tenfold and is expected to save rate payers around $9 million over its 25-year lifespan.
“Today’s sod turning is a major milestone for this City and another exciting step forward in the delivery of renewable energy for our region,” Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said on Tuesday.
“The solar farm will produce enough energy to run the equivalent of all the City of Newcastle’s facilities during the day, which represents significant environmental returns for ratepayers and millions of dollars in savings.”
The Newcastle solar project also paints a picture, in miniature, of Australia’s shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, that is playing out in so many of the country’s former coal centres, including Port Augusta (SA), Collinsville (Qld) and Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.
Not everyone is on board, though. In Western Australia, in the heart of the state’s last remaining coal mining and coal generation district, the Collie Shire Council in July voted against installing rooftop solar on local government buildings, arguing instead that it “should be burning more coal.”
According to local reports, Councillors worried about the implications of having solar panels when Collie was traditionally a coal town and employed people at the local Muja coal power station and other energy companies.
In Newcastle, however, the council fine with the implications of its solar choice.
“We are building sustainability into everything we do after reiterating our commitment last year to generate 30 per cent of our electricity needs from low-carbon sources and cut overall electricity usage by 30 per cent by 2020,” Cr Nelmes said.