Plans to develop a renewable energy microgrid in the regional Victorian city of Wangaratta have received a boost from the state government, with $100,000 granted towards efforts to develop a business case for the project.
The project, led by the Wangaratta council and local company Countrywide Renewable Energy, proposes to combine solar PV, energy storage and hydrogen fuel cell technology in the small town of Milawa.
The grid-connected microgrid would see the town generate its own solar electricity via local rooftop solar installations and Countrywide Renewable’s proposed 20MW solar farm in North Wangaratta.
Countrywide has been working with the City of Wangaratta for at least two years, after it announced plans in May 2016 to develop a 10MW community solar farm in the region.
After a strong show of interest in the council supported project from both businesses and local investors, those plans were soon doubled in size, to 20MW.
CWE director, Geoff Drucker, said at the time that the larger the solar farm, the more interest it was likely to attract from potential investors and power off-take partners.
“There is considerable interest in renewable energy projects from superannuation and investment funds that are keen to acquire ethical projects, particularly if they are large-scale developments and the larger they are, the more attraction they offer as an investment,” he said.
In terms of the microgrid proposal, solar energy from both the solar farm and from local rooftops would be shared among customers who opted in to the microgrid, with a community retailing opportunity being considered as part of the business case.
According to a fact sheet, the business case will also consider projected increases in energy demands, energy pricing, other renewable generation options, energy storage, and hydrogen production to replace LPG used by businesses.
Assisting in developing a business case for the microgrid is Deakin University, CSIRO, ITM-Power (a UK company with hydrogen production experience), local network operator AusNet Services, and consumer representative Energy Umpire.
The $100,000 funding from the Andrews Labor government comes under the third round of the New Energy Jobs Fund, as part of its $200 million Future Industries Fund.
“Microgrid projects are part of the Andrews Labor Government’s plan to drive down energy prices, reduce emissions and create more investment and jobs in the renewable energy sector in North East Victoria,” said local MP Jaclyn Symes.
“Milawa and its surrounding region thrives on food, wine, tourism and industry – energy security and pricing are crucial considerations for businesses in these sectors and that’s why we’re supporting this Micro Grid business case for Milawa.”
Among those businesses reportedly interested in taking part include well known local wine makers, Brown Brothers, and the owners of the Milawa Cheese Company.