The first large community solar project in the city of Sydney is to be unveiled today when the not-for-profit community advisory group Embark and property giant Lend Lease announce plans for a 400kW rooftop solar PV system in the convention centre to be built in Darling Harbour.
The $1 million project will be hosted and installed by Lend Lease at its Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct (SICEEP), but will be entirely owned by members of the local community, who will be able to purchase shares equivalent to around 1kW each, and obtain returns of around 5-7 per cent per annum.
Embark executive director Andy Cavanagh-Downs said the project, likely to be installed by 2016, will offer residents who could not otherwise benefit from rooftop solar – perhaps because they were renting or did not have the roof space – to invest in the technology.
“What we are looking to create is a combination of social, environmental and economic benefits,” he said. Investors will get a superior return than bank rates, and obtain the environmental and social benefits as well.
The Sydney Community Solar project is the first of a number of projects currently being negotiated or advised by Embark. This includes similar deals with project developers in major cities, ranging in size from 100kW to several hundred kWs, as well as a series of installations on commercial rooftops in regional NSW being proposed by Starfish Enterprises, in conjunction with Embark.
Community solar is expected to be one of the strong growth areas in green energy development. The Melbourne group Live recently proposed a 740kW project for the Melbourne markets, and Cavanagh-Down says there are up to 70 community groups who have sought assistance from Embark, which was formed to share the experience of Australia’s first community owned wind farm, the 4MW Hepburn Community Wind project, and to set up templates for others to follow, and benefit from the transition to renewable energy generation.
The Sydney project will look to tap into the inner-city green demographic in surrounding suburbs that has found itself unable to tap into rooftop solar, but has a strong desire to support renewables. “We hope that they find this is a way to participate in something meaningful,” he said.
Embark is not releasing too many of the financial details at the moment. It worked with Lend Lease on designing the community project, which was incorporated into the winning tender. A power purchase agreement has been struck with Lend Lease for energy to be sold to the convention centre and other tenants, but that deal has not been revealed. Presumably, it will be at well above wholesale rates.
Cavanagh-Downs said Embark wanted to demonstrate that these projects were economically sustainable and did not rely on subsidies, or government grants. “We are hoping to replicate this around the country with willing community groups and willing hosts. We want to hundreds of these projects around the country and the way to do that is to have a robust business plan.”
Cavanagh-Downs said the next project would likely be announced in the first half of next year, and possibly half a dozen others in the course of 2013. “We expect these kind of projects to take off next year – there is a lot of community desire. “
Simon Holmes à Court, the chairman of Embark, said: “The award winning Hepburn Wind project has proven that communities are keen to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy. By partnering with Lend Lease, Embark has been able to extend the ‘Hepburn Model’ to solar PV in an urban setting”.
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