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Victoria Labor plans 100% renewable town, review solar rules

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ergon solarThe Victorian Labor Party has sought to underline its renewable energy credentials by vowing to help the town of Newstead, near Bendigo, to become 100 per cent renewable energy by 2017, and become the state’s first “solar town”.

The commitment comes a few days after party led by Daniel Andrews said that a Labor Government would reverse the wind farm restrictions imposed by the Coalition state government, and seek to unlock billions of dollars in stalled investment.

The focus on Newstead, a town of just over 500 people on the Loddon River about 55kms from Bendigo, and 120kms north west of Melbourne, is interesting because Labor says it will focus primarily on solar power and battery storage to become 100 per cent renewable.

Labor says it will committ $200,000 of grant funding to help the local community group behind the project to draw up a master plan. Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D’Ambrosio, also said Labor will ensure small renewable energy projects can have fair access to the existing grid.

She said Labor will also ask the Essential Services Commission to inquire into the true value to the grid of distributed generation, and seek to ensure that distribution businesses are more responsive to distributed energy proposals.

“Labor will also ensure that energy retailers cannot discriminate against rooftop solar customers by charging extra supply fees,” it said, which will put it on an interesting path against the distributors who have been looking to increase fixed charges on solar households, as has happened in other states.

Newstead is not the only town seeking to go 100 per cent renewable. Yackandandah is also seeking to go entirely renewable by 2022, and its Totally Renewable Yackandandah campaign will be officially launched next week.

The Newstead initiative is led by Renewable Newstead, which wants it to become a town where “people talk and thing about energy and where understanding of our usage and our energy options become widespread in the community.”

“Newstead will be a leading example of what can be achieved when locals and government work together,” D’Ambrosio said in a statement. “Not only will the residents in Newstead reduce their reliance on coal fired power and cut their carbon footprint, they will be driving down household costs through cheaper energy bills.”

Environment Victoria said the initiate would create a valuable template that can be rolled-out across the state, and welcomed Labor’s commitment to ensure fair access, and fair prices, for rooftop solar.

“The ALP’s commitment to removing barriers faced by small renewable energy projects is a positive step for Victoria,” it said. “Where a community has the motivation to transition towards renewable energy, the Government needs to ensure that there are no regulatory obstacles in the way.”

On solar it said: “Owners of solar PV can only sell their electricity to retailers for 8 c/kWh, but retailers are then on-selling this same electricity for around 25 c/kWh.  Once we understand the true value of this clean electricity, a fair price needs to be paid to those who generate it.”

However, it said Labor was yet to indicate the extent of its overall renewable energy and emissions reductions targets, and what plans it had for the ageing, polluting brown coal generators.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Leigh Ewbank agreed that the state needed a state-based renewable energy target. He said towns such as Newstead and Yackandandah were “sending a clear message to the state government and opposition when it comes to our energy future.”

“With the G20 showing loud and clear that the rest of the world is taking climate change seriously, it is critical that the next Victorian Government position our state at the forefront of the global energy revolution.”

   

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  • barrie harrop

    smart move.

  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    Rooftop solar is a waste of resources for any community, they should have a solar farm and/or wind turbines, the engineering and economic benefits would be a scale of magnitude difference, the pseudo independent fuzzy feeling, home micro generation gives is a farce excepting independent remote homes, where it is warranted.

    • Pedro

      I suspect there will be a combination of rooftop solar and solar/wind farms, and CSP with storage.

      I also disagree that rooftop solar is a waste of resources. One is that the roof is free real estate. Power line infrastructure is already in place. Household PV power self consumption would have to be the most efficient use of power. Produced and consumed on site.

    • Colin Nicholson

      This is a rural area where houses take 10KW arrays and sheds 30KW.

  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    You have to understand the engineering and economics Pedro.
    What is a few hundred adhoc solar installations, non ideal orientations, shading issues, maintenance issues etc, etc, you need to have to be involved in the industry to realise that a solar farm with correct orientation and even the capability to track and argument the grid at night, with scales of economy of equipment, connected to a nearby substation is a vast improvement on the adhoc individual systems.

    • Pedro

      I agree that a substation with storage would probably be the most efficient method for a micro/mini grid. In the context of Newstead with a population of just 500 which may already have a high rooftop PV penetration there may not be a huge need for MW scale PV. Of course you are going to get maximum PV power production from correct orientation etc compared to adhoc rooftop orientations, but is that really all that more efficient? Ground mount framing is easily 3-5 times the cost of your standard roof mounting systems, then you have to have the land. So what if panels are facing east and west, it just extends and flattens out the PV production curve, which would reduce the size of the battery bank. As for tracking PV arrays, the economics generally don’t work, which is the reason that virtually no utility scale tracking PV arrays have been installed.

      Not sure if you have a domestic PV system, but 1.2 million homes in Australia do and maintenance is not really an onerous burden unless you have a poor quality system. In most cases it is the inverter that fails which is normally a pretty simple off the shelf swap out repair (unless they have gone out of business). 100+kW sized inverters are not commonly available, they need to be ordered in, and what if that fails in your engineered solution? You are likely to wait 3 months for a replacement.

      I just think your comment that “rooftop solar is a waste of resources” is questionable and a bit harsh

      • sam

        Well argued.

  • Ken Dyer

    This excellent initiative could quite easily be extended to local government areas. For example, many councils have vacant unusable land that were once tip sites, and some even produce methane. Installing a large solar farm, and wholesaling the energy produced to an energy supplier who in turn could retail it to a ratepayer in that municipality at an agreed discount would be beneficial to all.

    The Council would make money to achieve a return on its investment, and would improve local employment, the retailer would receive the benefit of the energy without capital outlay, and the customer would receive a discounted rate on the power bill because it is locally produced.

  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    Ok so you’ve got all these properties each one needs seperate paperwork, application to supply authority for solar metering, small generation, STC’s, contracts, etc.
    For each system there needs to be equipment sourced and separately, delivered to site, so we have a large logistics, management issue for a start.
    Each roof must be physically capable of supporting the solar array.
    All the seperate installers involved need accreditation, the system rails, panels, need to be got up to and installed at height, on the roof, in whatever weather, with all the necessary safety requirements, adhered to.
    Each site, if grid connected, will need to not be affected with grid parameter issues, voltage, impedance.
    While the system power drop in supplying the home is small, the system power drop to the grid can be larger, (feed in)
    Most of these systems would have a less than ideal orientation, shading issues, etc.
    Then the maintenance of these systems, in my experience, is an adhoc affair, with only a small percentage ever attended to.

    With a community farm, it could be sited near an area sub station, where the system power drop is negligible, the system can augment grid parameters, eg power factor, voltage stabilisation.
    The system is delivered to one place and could be electrically smaller for the same annual output of the less than optimal individual systems, or electrically much larger, because of the large savings, due to consolidation, scale of economies etc, meaning a much quicker return on investment.

    • Pedro

      I think the solution you are proposing is excellent for a new greenfield housing estate where it can all be planned for at the design stage. And you get all the economic benefits of scale and centralization.

      I am sitting more in the domestic scale PV side of the market. Paperwork and admin is far more onerous than it has to be even on the domestic side. What I hear from colleagues on the 30+ to MW scale is that the admin and compliance costs are far higher and much more onerous with significant 6+ month delays in approval. This can all be smoothed out if the government is supportive of the project.

      All the challenges you list in your first paragraph are overcome on a daily basis by any grid connect installer with a ute and a trailer. Normally they can have a domestic sized system installed in a day with about a month of waiting for approvals, which is reasonably fast.

  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    I still think the problems with small scale generation systems are always understated, I’ve been involved in about 400 systems from 1.5-100kW commercials.
    The are so many factors involved, with existing town buildings, heritage listings affecting roof location, additional electrical work to be done to switchboards, the hundreds of dollars each for solar meters, etc, to comply, access issues, inspections required, on & on.
    If there is existing vacant land for large scale generation solar, or if the wind resource is good and no objections, wind turbines, I wouldn’t discount a feasibility study.