Plans for Victoria's 'largest' community solar farm set to double in size

A 10MW community solar farm planned for the regional Victoria’s city of Wangaratta could soon double in size, after a strong show of interest in the council supported project from both businesses and investors.
Plans for what was to be a 10MW solar farm – which would already have made the project the largest collaborative solar farm in the state – were first announced in May, by Melbourne-based community renewables group Countrywide Energy.

The proposal, then, was for the installation of 14 hectares of solar panels adjacent to the North Wangaratta Industrial estate. But in a media release on Monday, Countrywide Energy said the company was now seeking development approval for a 20MW solar farm, instead.

CWE director, Geoff Drucker, said in an emailed statement 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.
“Land for the original 10MW solar farm will be leased from the (City of Wangaratta) but to extend the project, CWE has secured additional land under a private option agreement.
Drucker said that CWE would move straight to seeking approval for a 20MW project, rather than applying for the 10MW solar farm and then following that up with a second application.
“Knowledge of a solar farm’s development has generated interest from businesses considering relocation to a regional home, which further supports expanding the scale of the solar farm. Gary Warrener from the City of Wangaratta has been collaborating with CWE on the project, using it as an attraction to new businesses,” he said.
“As more organisations strive to reduce their carbon footprint, sourcing their energy from renewable installations is becoming increasingly popular.
“We strongly believe that the cooperative relationship CWE has with the Rural City of Wangaratta will see the DA approval granted expediently to enable the first sod to be turned on the project by the end of the year.  The first power from the solar farm is due to be supplied by the end of 2017.
Drucker said that expanding the Wangaratta Solar Farm from 10MW to 20MW would increase its capital cost from $20 million to more than $35 million, but would also make it a much more attractive long-term prospect.

As we reported in May, Drucker believes the costs of technology like solar and wind have reached the point now that communities can take control of their energy generation, rather than relying on massive decentralised power stations like Latrobe valley.

“Why would we burn a fossil fuel, burn mountains of fossil fuel, to end up with energy that’s only a tiny percentage of what’s being generated ending at the destination?” Trucker said in an interview recently.
“I think it’s time for communities to be able to take control of the future of where the energy comes from, what they pay for their energy and the ongoing costs in the future.
“At Countrywide Energy, what we do is we go to particularly regional areas… and look for opportunities where there’s an energy issue.
“We go to these areas and say, is there an opportunity for economic growth in this area if you had more energy, or more reliable energy?
“Are there energy hungry companies that would move to the area if you had more energy?,” he said. “We actually look at each area and say what do you need, how can we fund it?”

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