Solar launch shines light on renewable energy partnerships

Tuesday, 30 January

Lismore Community Solar – a project that includes the construction of Australia’s largest floating solar farm – was launched today by Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy and Northern NSW, Benjamin Franklin MLC.

Mr Franklin was joined by Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith, stakeholders and local solar farm investors, as well as Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes from the Climate Council.

The Lismore Community Solar initiative is a partnership between Lismore City Council and community solar energy facilitator Farming the Sun, to break new ground in working with communities to fund renewable energy projects that power Council facilities.

As part of the Lismore Community Solar initiative, Council has built two 100kW solar farms – a rooftop solar farm at Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre that has been operating since March and a floating solar farm at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant.

The rooftop solar farm is now providing 15% of the aquatic centre’s power while the floating solar farm’s 280 solar panels generate 12% of the treatment plant’s energy needs.

The innovative floating design provides capacity for the solar farm to expand across the overflow ponds and Council’s aim is to eventually power the treatment plant from 100% solar energy.

“This is an historic occasion for Lismore. We have demonstrated that you can collaborate with your community and provide renewable energy solutions for a regional city,” Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith said.

“I am so excited our local investors were here to celebrate this milestone. It is their conviction and passion to see a renewable energy future that has made this project a reality.”

Both solar farms were funded by companies made up of 20 local investors, with the funds loaned to Council under a financial model that is the first of its kind in Australia.

“It has already generated interest both nationally and internationally as a model for government and community cooperation, with investors receiving a return better than that of a bank,” Lismore City Council’s Environmental Strategies Officer Sharyn Hunnisett explained.

“The project has not been without its challenges to establish and get operational, but now that we have done the hard work we have a model others can emulate. We hope to see renewable energy projects like this taken up between councils and communities right across Australia, whether that’s using sun, wind or wave technology.”

The two solar farms are one of many measures in Council’s Renewable Energy Master Plan to achieve Council’s goal of self-generating all its electricity from renewable sources by 2023.

Both solar farm projects have been assisted by funding from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Growing Community Energy grants program plus donations from private philanthropists.

As well as the launch of Lismore Community Solar, the Climate Council also welcomed 35 new councils to the Cities Power Partnership, a network of local councils working to tackle climate change, of which Lismore was a founding member.

The Climate Council also presented Lismore City Council with a petition of 23,000 signatures congratulating Lismore on its achievements.

Floating solar farm stats:

  • The East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant is Council’s highest electricity consuming site (1,577,726 kWh annually), which accounts for 27% of Council’s total electricity consumption.
  • The 100kW floating solar farm will produce around 12% of the site’s needs (178,437 kWh annually) with a saving of $24,000 per annum and a payback period of 11.6 years.

Council’s renewable energy goal stats:

  • Council needs to generate 6,600MWh of renewable energy to reach its goal – equivalent to 825 households.
  • Council started with 1% renewable energy in 2014. Council will be generating 14% by the end of this financial year.
  • Council’s large-scale solar plant will be 5MW.
  • Council’s electricity use has decreased 20% since 2010.
  • Council’s energy costs in 2013 were $1.6 million – last financial year costs were down to $1.1 million.
  • Council has saved 8,611 tonnes of CO2 in seven years. This is equivalent to taking about 1,800 cars off the road.

Image: Launching Lismore Community Solar are Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy and Northern NSW Benjamin Franklin MLC and Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith with Council staff, stakeholders and local community solar farm investors.

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