NT to shift all remote communities to renewable microgrids

A BESS installed at the Daly River community. Source: Territory Power and Water

The Northern Territory government has laid the foundations for plans to transition scores of remote indigenous communities to renewable-based power systems by 2030, with the announcement of $2 million in funding and a competitive tender process.

In a statement on Monday, the Gunner Labor government said it would invest $2 million over the coming two years to advance the delivery of “clean and reliable” electricity to remote communities supplied by the Indigenous Essential Services, of which there is a total of 72.

The initiative, which was part of the recommendations of the Territory Economic Reconstruction, aims to target an aggregate 70 per cent renewables penetration in these communities, as part of the Territory’s broader goal of 50% renewables by 2030.

The community power generation program has also been recognised by Infrastructure Australia as a priority initiative in its 2021 guide to nationally significant infrastructure needs.

The government said that for its part, some of the $2 million in new funding would go towards the establishment of a two-stage competitive process to secure delivery of the renewable energy microgrids – including innovative technologies such as renewable hydrogen – following project assessments and community engagement.

“A key part of this investment is developing an open and contestable delivery framework to facilitate around $400 million of private investment in remote power system services to communities supplied by Indigenous Essential Services,” the statement said.

The government said the competitive process would focus on maximising opportunities for local industries, creating local jobs and building local skills and expertise – with the broader goal of establishing the Territory as a leader in remote microgrid technologies.

“Energy and renewables will unlock private investment and create local jobs – and we are hunting every opportunity,” said the NT’s chief minister Michael Gunner.

“Renewables are a big part of how we lock in the comeback from the coronavirus crisis and this opportunity will open the door to millions more dollars to flow into the Territory.

“We will keep doing the hard work to provide jobs for Territorians, right across the Territory – everyone has to be part of the comeback.”

The NT has some experience, already, of installing remote renewable energy microgrids, through its Solar Energy Transformation Program (SETuP) project – which was at the time said to be Australia’s largest roll-out of solar to remote communities.

The $59 million, ARENA-backed program, which was completed this time two years ago, integrated a total of 10MW of solar PV – and one 2MWh battery storage system – with off-grid power stations across 25 remote Indigenous communities.

On top of that, in June of last year, a 970kWh battery energy storage system was installed at the Titjikala community, around 130km south of Alice Springs, allowing it to run on solar only during the day, and slash diesel consumption by more than 150,000 litres a year.

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