State backs community solar plan to take Victoria town 100% renewable

Simon Corbell, then Victoria’s Renewable Energy Advocate with Enga Lokey, the project coordinator, overlooking the Wimmera Plains. Source: NCE

An “entirely community-driven” solar project that aims to make the western Victoria wheatbelt town of Natimuk 100 per cent renewable energy powered has won state government funding.

The Andrews Labor government said on Monday that it has awarded a grant of $339,000 to help bring the 1.6MW solar farm to market in the small farming town, just west of Horsham.

The project is being developed by Natimuk Community Energy, and aims to be both 100 per cent community owned, and to take the town to 100 per cent renewable powered by producing the equivalent of its annual energy needs.

Already – after making a 2007 commitment to zero waste and zero emissions – Natimuk has notched up an impressive household solar uptake of around 30 per cent for rooftop PV systems, and 15 per cent for solar hot water, thanks to several community-based bulk-purchase projects.

But the focus, now, is on the development of a solar garden, to cover the remainder of the capacity for the annual electricity consumption of the town.

According to the NCE website, it has been working with Ekistica to create a business case for the solar farm, including assessing the feasibility and economics of a variety of sites, off-take agreements, and financial models.

Victorian energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the grant funding – taken from the $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund – would help NCE navigate the approvals process, connection studies, design and operational plans, and the development of a financial model and market prospectus for the project.

“We’re working with communities like Natimuk to help them achieve their goal of moving to 100 per cent renewable energy,” D’Ambrosio said in comments on Monday.

“Through this grant we are empowering the Natimuk community to fully harness the benefits of locally produced clean energy and cut their power prices,” the minister said.

“By transitioning to renewable energy we are protecting our environment, supporting new industries and creating local employment, education and training opportunities.”

The project has also received support from Horsham Rural City Council and the Wimmera Mallee Sustainability Alliance, the NCE said.

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