Goulburn residents are a step closer to their dream of building a community-owned solar farm that will help the city’s disadvantaged people, and there are plans to invest in a second solar project on the city’s outskirts.
Community Energy 4 Goulburn (CE4G) has raised $1.55 million of its $1.9 million target from the community to build a 1.8 megawatt solar farm near the city centre by July 2021.
The NSW Government has contributed an additional $2.1 million from its Regional Community Energy Fund to bring the project closer to its total cost of $4.2 million.
The $200,000 shortfall will be made up in voluntary hours by CE4G members.
Goulburn Solar Farm will comprise about 4000 north-facing panels spread across 2.2 hectares on a vacant block of industrial land on Bridge Street.
Residents from Goulburn, as well as the neighbouring town of Crookwell and its surrounds can become shareholders of the project by investing a minimum of $400 – the price of one connected panel – up to a maximum of $400,000, 20 per cent of the issued capital.
Most people have invested the minimum $400, however one person has invested $400,000, according to CE4G vice-president Ed Suttle.
Electricity from the solar farm will be sold back to the grid, with profits split three ways: into dividends, a sinking fund for panel repairs and maintenance, and a fund to pay for electricity bills for Goulburn’s disadvantaged people.
Up to 20 per cent of the project’s profit can be donated to the disadvantaged people fund, which will be managed by the Anglicare charity.
Mr Suttle said he and the members of Goulburn Group, which established CE4G to administer the solar farm project, are not only passionate about renewable energy, but also helping people who struggle to afford electricity to stay warm in winter and cool in summer.
Toni Reay, manager of housing and social services at Anglicare NSW South, said there are families in Goulburn that have to choose between electricity, food or keeping a roof over their head.
“This is an incredibly stressful situation for people to find themselves in, whether it is single individuals or families struggling with the rising costs of living, or older people relying on government support and trying to make ends meet,” she said.
The solar farm will maximise profits by storing electricity in a 400-kilowatt onsite battery while electricity prices are lowest, during the day, and sell electricity back to the grid when electricity prices are highest, during the evening.
Mr Suttle said Goulburn Solar Farm will be Australia’s first community-owned solar farm with battery storage.
The project has further reduced its operating costs by negotiating a 25-year commercial lease with Andy Divall, who owns the land on Bridge Street and is a member of CE4G.
Goulburn Mulwaree Council has approved the development and residents can expect to see machinery onsite from March 2021.
CE4G has appointed Como Energy to construct the solar farm and intends to use local accommodation and as much local labour as possible during construction, including electrical, fencing, civil works and equipment hire.
The solar panels and battery will be sourced from outside Goulburn as there aren’t any businesses that make those locally, said Mr Suttle.
CE4G is also working on a solar garden that will be located within seven to eight kilometres of Goulburn and have a higher output of around 1.5MW. Goulburn residents who can’t install solar panels on their roof – either because they don’t receive enough sunlight or can’t afford them – will be able to connect to panels in the garden.