Solar garden provides renewable energy to communities

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A project launched this month as Australia’s “first large-scale solar garden” could be one of many to appear across the country over the next five years.

A five-hectare paddock on a farm in Grong Grong, an hour west of Wagga Wagga, has been designated as the site for a 1.5 MW ‘solar garden’ which includes ‘plots’ that can be purchased by residents of all of New South Wales.

It’s a concept similar to community gardening, where people who don’t have a backyard can still garden by buying or renting land in a common area.

Haystacks Solar Garden is being built by the non-profit Community Power Agency (CPA), Pingala Co-op and Komo Energy with support from other organizations and funded by the NSW Government’s Regional Community Energy Fund.

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Community power projects in Australia at the end of September 2020.

It’s technically not the first solar garden to appear in Australia. Enova Energy, currently under administration, launched a 35kW solar panel on the roof of the North Coast Community Housing (NCCH) administration building in Lismore, northern New South Wales in late 2019.

NCCH purchased the electricity for on-site use, with funds going to 23 “solar gardeners”, including their tenants and community groups.

But the larger-scale cooperative-owned Haystacks Solar Garden is likely to set a precedent for a federal election pledge by the PLA to provide 85 solar banks (also called gardens) and 400 neighborhood batteries as part of its Powering Plan. Australia.

In June, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen renewed the federal government’s $300 million commitment to deliver community batteries and solar banks across Australia.

Haystacks was in the planning stage long before the ALP campaign. One of the Community Power Agency’s directors, Kristy Walters, says that like many other projects over the past few years, Haystacks has had its share of delays.

“COVID-19 has wreaked all kinds of havoc on our project,” says Walters. “In February 2020, we planned what we were going to do. We ran a few in-person events, but after that everyone was online.

“There were so many communities in lockdown, there were sick people, supply shortages – it meant we had to rework our model multiple times. It’s not the same project we started with.

Renewable energy in Australia dominates the world

While Australia leads the world in the use of solar power with more than one in four homes using solar power and is well known for its innovation, the idea of ​​solar gardens is to make renewable energy available to people who otherwise would not be able to access it – tenants, apartment dwellers and people whose housing is unsuitable.

Haystacks Solar Garden officially launched its project on September 1 this year, offering 333 solar plots in the 1.5 MW farm, with estimates that those who buy a plot will save around $505 on their electricity bill each year. . The completed project is expected to reduce emissions in New South Wales by 3,100 tonnes per year.

“It’s an exciting model of being a pioneer for Australia that other countries have enjoyed for years,” says Haystacks Solar Garden project manager Kim Mallee. “With the Albanian government committing to fund 85 solar gardens across the country, we will see many more households have the opportunity to access solar energy.”

Mallee says the Community Power Agency has been at the forefront of the solar garden model since 2018. A CPA/University of Technology Sydney research project funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) found that the model was both viable and desirable.

“From the experience of the previous two years developing Haystacks Solar Garden, we know that rolling out an effective solar bank/garden program of the size proposed by the work will require expertise, support and coordination. bespoke – such as those that could be delivered through a Community Power Hubs and Network model,” the CPA blog reads.

But, he says, the commitment means the government is off to a good start. Visit here to learn more about Haystacks Solar Garden.



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