"Solar farmlet" on livestock exchange leads rural push to local generation

A new solar project slated for the regional Victorian town of Wangaratta has highlighted the huge potential for rooftop PV in commercial farming and agriculture, as rising energy prices and concerns over energy security take a toll on regional businesses and councils.
The project will see the installation of a 750kW solar array on the huge and newly refurbished roof of the council-owned Wangaratta Livestock Exchange, pictured below.

Local clean energy developer, Countrywide Energy (CWE), which is also set to begin construction of a 20MW solar farm in Wangaratta, is undertaking the job, with plans to lease the rooftop from the Council and either offset the energy generated against the Council’s power bills or sell the energy to the grid, or a combination of both.
“We’d been asked by the Strathbogie Shire Council, to look at their sale yard – because Euroa has real difficulties with their summer load, and often has to hire a big diesel generator,” CWE director Geoff Drucker told One Step Off The Grid.
The idea was seized upon by the Wangaratta Council, which happened to have just refurbished the roof of its livestock exchange building, resulting in a 12,500 square meter, “over-enengineered” space that was ideal for solar.
“The Wangaratta Livestock Exchange (WLE) rooftop is an ideal location for a large-scale installation because of its carrying and load capacities and connection to the National Electricity Market,” said Drucker.
“This is the first of several larger roof spaces that offer ideal locations for a solar installation in and around Wangaratta,” he said.
Once completed, the exchange will host around 2,500 solar panels – enough to power about 200 homes. And, like the North Wangaratta solar farm, Drucker says the WLE system will be rented under a 25-year agreement, with an option to extend it by a further 25 years.
CWE says this sort of “solar farmlet” project is becoming increasingly attractive in rural Australia, as councils and businesses look to cut costs and secure their electricity supply.
“Since our first discussions about a solar farm in Wangaratta, there has been keen Council interest in looking at other opportunities for renewable energy to shore up the energy supply in the area at a time when energy security is an issue, as are future energy costs,” Drucker said.
And the job has sparked interest elsewhere, with CWE asked to take a look at the livestock exchanges at Yea, and Mt Gambier.
“We’re really keen to look at these sorts of opportunities,” Drucker told One Step; “to talk to (Regional) businesses with large flat or north-facing rooftops about a rental arrangement and possibly an energy offtake under very favourable terms that can be locked in for extended periods,” he said.
This was particularly urgent, he added, as the electricity grid was being weaned off increasingly expensive fossil fuel generation.
“We need to fill up these gaps and put the energy where it’s needed in these regional areas,” he said.

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