Australia’s largest community solar farm, SolarShare, switched on yesterday morning in the ACT.
A total of 550 locals – students and seniors alike – raised more than $2.4 million for the three-hectare farm, 5,000 solar modules built on a disused block owned by the Mount Majura vineyard.
According to ACT Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Shane Rattenbury, the one-megawatt facility approaches the commercial scale, not seen in community projects before.
The solar farm will produce enough power for 250 houses: 1.8-gigawatt hour (GWh) of electricity each year; and abate 1,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Mr Rattenbury said the ACT Government will guarantee feed-in tariffs for the next 20 years, which provides the solar farm with the economic foundation to invest and build the farm.
Members invested between $500 and $100,000 each, and can expect a 5% return within 12 months, possibly by the end of the financial year.
Nick Feyer, SolarShare chair, said investing in renewable energy was valuable, realistic, and socially creditable.
“The shift in transmission systems and generation systems is going to be the largest change in wealth since railroads came in,” he said.
The financial risk is the weather; La Niña brings cooler weather and more rain, and fewer sunny days. But the economic modelling has been conservative, Mr Feyer reassured investors.
“Even with cloudier days or La Niña events, we are still going to be able to beat our projected returns,” he said.
SolarShare was formed by members of the grassroots sustainability organisation, SEE-Change. The solar farm was built by Epho Commercial Solar, using an $8,000 loan from CWP Renewables.
The ACT Government sees SolarShare as a model for community ownership and community management of solar farms. Mr Rattenbury hoped community groups across the country would build similar farms.
“We’ve now got a model that works, and there’s no reason why it can’t be replicated,” he said. “I’d like to think this is really just the first of this scale.”
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