Wodonga wastewater plant goes solar as Photon Energy tapped for $7 million contract

Image: North East Water

A wastewater treatment plant that services the Victorian regional town of Wodonga is set to be powered by a 3MW ground-mounted solar system after Photon Energy Australia was awarded the $A7.2 million contract for the project.

The Australian arm of the Netherlands-based Photon Energy said on Tuesday that it had won the competitive tender to be principal contractor in the design, construction, and commissioning of the solar project for the North East Water Corporation.

North East Water, which provides water and sewage services to 39 towns and cities across north-eastern Victoria – and 39,000 people in Wodonga alone – said in an announcement last year that the project was expected to power the neighbouring sewage treatment plant during daylight hours.

“Wodonga’s sewage treatment plant consumes 25 per cent of the Corporation’s total energy requirements, so the solar installation will significantly reduce our expenses and carbon emissions,” said NEW managing director Craig Heiner.

“Any excess electricity generated by the farm will be fed into the grid to help off-set power usage at other water and sewage treatment plants across the north-east.”

Heiner said that the water company had been “investing significantly” in increase the efficiency of the Corporation’s operations, including sourcing around 20% of its electricity from the Ararat wind farm.

“When the solar farm comes online, 50% of the Corporation’s total daytime power consumption will come from green energy,” he said.

“This is all part of our commitment to cutting carbon emissions by 42% within six years and our pledge to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050.”

Photon Energy, which just last week reached financial close on two merchant solar farms in New South Wales, said winning the NEW tender was another significant milestone for the company.

“Together with our success on the Lord Howe Island project (this) is a testimony to our capabilities,” said Photon Energy Australia managing director Michael Gartner.

“We look forward to embarking on similar or more complex projects in the near future that will help Australia reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.”

Photon said the Wodonga Wastewater Treatment Plant was a complex project with many engineering challenges incorporating the solar with existing diesel generation, while ensuring water treatment could continue to operate if the facility was islanded off-grid.

The project is expected to deliver significant benefits to communities in the region, both through the reduction of grid-drawn power consumption to the WWTP site and via the significant economic stimulus to the Victorian and regional economies.

The Wodonga solar array joins a growing list of renewable energy projects being developed by water companies around the country, trying to cut grid electricity consumption for their notoriously energy-hungry operations.

in April of 2019, 13 Victorian water utilities banded together to forge a major renewable energy off-take deal to supply between 20 and 50 per cent of each of their total electricity needs, and lower water bills for consumers.

The utilities, under an umbrella organisation called Zero Emissions Water Ltd (ZEW), signed a deal with the 200MW Kiamal Solar Farm – Victoria’s largest such project at that time, developed in the state’s north-west by Total Eren.

In South Australia, SA Water in March this year applied to the state regulator to install a total of 8MW of solar and 750kW/880kWh of battery storage at its Swan Reach Water Treatment Plan, north-east of Adelaide.

The new installations form part of SA Water’s journey to “net zero” electricity costs, which it has aimed to achieve this year by rolling out a total of 154MW of solar PV and 34MWh of energy storage across more than 70 of its sites in a plan first unveiled in December 2017.

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