Small, smart, community-owned solar farm on cards for NSW High Country

Baroota Solar Farm. Image: Meralli Solar

Plans to build a community-owned solar farm in the New South Wales High Country are taking shape, as part of a collaboration between specialist small PV project developer Meralli Solar and community renewables outfit Farming the Sun.

Farming the Sun, itself a collaboration with Starfish Initiatives, said on Thursday that it had begun work on the new project, after securing an option to buy what could prove to be a suitable site on the outskirts of Uralla.

The around 9MW project is being developed in partnership with Meralli, which specialises in building smaller-scale solar farms with a compact footprint, sensitive design, and good return on investment.

They achieve much of this by using the Belectric PEG framing system which requires no concrete footings and installs the panels less than one metre off the ground, giving the finished product an ultra-low profile, while also allowing for rapid installation.

In the case of Meralli’s 8.9MW Baroota solar farm in Port Germein in South Australia’s Spencer Gulf region, that project was completed in just eight weeks (pictured above).

And the completion of Baroota followed the September 2019 electrification of Meralli’s 9MW Kanowna solar farm near Moree, in NSW, described as “cutting edge” for its use of both DC optimisers and DC coupled battery architecture for central inverters.

As RenewEcononmy editor GIles Parkinson noted at the time, the combination means it can get by some of the grid connection and output restrictions being imposed by network operators, and maximise the output of both the solar farm and any battery storage, which can then be sent to the grid at times of peak demand or in the evening.

For Meralli, Uralla – if it goes ahead – would be the company’s sixth solar farm, but it would be the first in partnership with Starfish Initiatives, where locals would be able to directly invest in the project.

Starfish’s Farming the Sun venture, meanwhile, has been facilitating community-funded solar farms and bulk-buy rooftop solar rounds for several years in New South Wales, including in Lismore, the Northern Rivers region and in Tamworth, Gunnedah, Liverpool Plains and Southern New England High Country regions.

“Starfish and Meralli have been working at this project concept for a few years, but it is just now… that we can begin engaging with the community and stakeholders,” Farming the Sun said on its website.

At this point, Farming the Sun says the Uralla project remains in its very early stages, with many details yet to be worked through, ranging from site suitability, to development application and approval, to finalising the community investment structure.

But the hope is that Meralli’s unique approach to building “small but smart” solar farms will help smooth the process.

Based on the Electric PEG technology, the proposed 9MWDC project would need only about 6 hectares of land, the companies say. And local procurement would be prioritised for both construction and maintenance.

“Since the Meralli process does not require a large or specialised workforce, these are significant local opportunities, especially for the small rural communities that we are so passionate about!,” Farming the Sun said.

“All up, the gains from these innovations mean that Meralli has been able to build grid competitive solar farms without government or taxpayer support. This is great value for money.”

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