Sunshine Coast opens 15MW solar farm that will save it $22 million

The 15MW Sunshine Coast solar farm in Valdora. Pic supplied by Council.

Sunshine Coast Council on Monday formally opened its 15MW Valdora solar farm to become the first council in Australia to complete its own large scale solar plant, with the prospect of saving more than $20 million in electricity costs.
The solar farm – more than four years in the making (we first reported on the idea here in 2013) – will supply the equivalent of all council’s electricity needs, lock in costs and deliver significant savings over the 30 year life of the plant.
Mayor Mark Jamieson said the council would be the first in Australia to offset 100 per cent of its electricity consumption with energy from a renewable source, and it expected to make $22 million in savings after all costs.
Ironically, the council is located in the heart of an area with mostly conservative representatives in state and federal parliaments.  “Both the State and Federal governments talk about achieving renewable energy targets – our council is getting on with and achieving ours – and well ahead of anyone else.”
“All power consumed at all of council’s facilities, including our administration buildings, aquatic centres, community and performance venues, as well as holiday parks, libraries, art galleries and sporting facilities,will be offset with energy from a renewable source thanks to this nation-leading project,” Jamieson said.
Source: Solar Farm Business Case

The council spends around $9 million a year on electricity, and the solar farm will more than halve the cost of electricity consumers, although there are significant fixed charges for networks that cannot be avoided.
“All power consumed at all of council’s facilities, including our administration buildings, aquatic centres, community and performance venues, as well as holiday parks, libraries, art galleries and sporting facilities,will be offset with energy from a renewable source thanks to this nation-leading project,” Jamieson said.
The Sunshine Coast council area already has 40,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar, meaning that the new power plant takes total renewable energy capacity in the council area to 140MW.
Jamieson said the initiative had sparked major interest and 15 councils around Australia have already inquired about how they can follow in our footsteps.
“What’s more, is that this project has been developed and delivered solely by our council, without any assistance from either the Federal or State governments, unlike many other solar farms being developed in Australia,” he said.
The Valdora solar farm is the second biggest to be completed in Queensland (after Barcaldine), although another half a dozen bigger plants are also under construction and another dozen or so are about to begin construction.
“Our solar farm is the first, and will be the largest, to connect to the electricity grid in South East Queensland. It is also the first solar farm in Australia to operate at 1500 volts DC which enables it to operate more efficiently,” the council said.
The solar farm – located on an old sugar farm prone to flooding, so it had to be built on supports 3.4m high – was built by Downer Group, while a new retail contract has been struck with Diamond Energy.
“Over the past three years, Diamond Energy has supported council’s enthusiastic staff, through planning, implementation and now operation,” Diamond Energy managing director Tony Sennitt said.
Steven Lynch, the head of the local area for network company Energex said the company say such grid scale Projects like this as a key part of our low-carbon future.
Sunshine Coast Council’s Development and Innovation Portfolio Councillor Stephen Robinson said the solar farm would further help the region transition to a clean and low carbon economy.
“At any one time during construction, up to 100 people were employed on site by the lead contractor, Downer Utilities, and 10 local companies were sub-contracted to complete on-site work – from earthworks to drilling, fencing and construction.
“I’d also like to acknowledge the council staff who have been passionately committed to seeing this innovative project through to completion.”
Queensland assistant Minister Glenn Butcher said the state was seeing an unprecedented level of renewable energy investment, with 17 large-scale projects being committed since January 2016.
“These projects, totalling almost 1200 megawatts, will create over 2,200 construction jobs, boost investment by $2.3 billion, and produce enough electricity to power around 520,000 homes,” he said in a statement.
“The prospects for future investment in Queensland are also strong, with over 5000 megawatts of projects in the broader pipeline.”

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