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Construction begins on Australia’s biggest council-owned solar farm

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The development of what will be Queensland’s biggest solar farm – the Sunshine Coast Council-owned Valdora solar farm – is underway, after the appointment of engineering group Downer to construct the project.Mayor and Trevor Cohen sod turning

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said on Wednesday that Downer has been awarded the tender to construct the 15MW, 57,000-plus panel solar array on council-owned land at Valdora.

The south-east Queensland council will be the nation’s first local government to build a utility-scale, grid-connected solar farm, which it says will generate enough electricity to cover the council’s entire consumption.

“The 15MW solar farm, covering 24 hectares of a 49 hectare site at Valdora, will be the biggest solar farm in Queensland – the next largest being the Gatton Solar Farm at 3.3MW – and the fifth largest solar farm in the nation,” Mayor Jamieson said. (Although it should be pointed out that it may be overtaken by the 25MW Barcaldine solar farm).

“By 2017 it will offset 100 per cent of the organisation’s electricity consumption across all its facilities and operations, with solar energy going into the grid.

“That includes our administration buildings, swimming pools, performance venues and community centres, our holiday parks, libraries and art gallery and our sport and recreation facilities.

“Most other governments are still talking about offsetting 50 per cent of their energy needs from renewables by 2025 so our 100 per cent offset puts us way ahead of the game and that’s a win for our environment and our community.

“And it doesn’t stop there. The solar farm is also estimated to save this council millions of dollars over a 30-year period based on today’s electricity costs, which are anticipated to increase substantially in the future.

Artist's impression - Sunshine Coast Solar Farm 2MB

The solar farm has been in the planning for several years, and will go ahead despite the council failing to obtain financing under the current ARENA solar funding round, which excluded councils.

Jamieson said every Sunshine Coast ratepayer will benefit from the certainty this project will provide in regard to council’s electricity expenditure and in the context of combating rising electricity costs.

“This project will see us proactively take control of our electricity supply, isolating council from increased price risk,” he said.

“The Sunshine Coast Solar Farm will, at its peak, generate 15,000 kilowatts of electricity from the sun. Over one year the solar farm will generate sufficient electricity to power approximately 5000 homes.”

Divisional and Economic Development and Innovation Portfolio Councillor Stephen Robinson described the game-changing project as a major step forward for the council, its residents and the clean technologies sector.

“This is certainly an exciting initiative which provides real savings for this council and therefore our ratepayers, while positioning us as leaders in the renewable energy space,” Cr Robinson said.

“Our residents can be very proud of the positive economic and environmental outcomes this project will deliver.

“Council has undertaken extensive analysis on the potential budget savings the solar farm project will provide.

“Naturally any savings forecast includes the up-front build costs, in addition to the ongoing operational costs for the farm.”

Energex chief executive officer Terry Effeney said the network saw grid-scale Projects like Valdora as a key part of its low-carbon future.

Diamond Energy, the council’s energy retailer, has commended the council for “taking control” of its electricity supply.

“Sunshine Coast Council is leading by example and showing Queensland residents how to combat rising electricity costs while supporting a clean energy future,” said managing director Tony Sennitt.

“The new energy future is about using our plentiful natural resources, so let’s turn on the sunshine and deliver more energy to this pro-active local council.”  

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  • Mike Dill

    Every council that puts in solar is another nail in the coal coffin. We need more of these.

  • Stan Hlegeris

    This is great in lots of ways, but at the risk of sounding churlish I have to point out some problems.

    1. Why build over all that open space/ag land? 24 hectares sounds like a lot, but there’s much more unused roof space than that within a small radius of this site. Think of council buildings, warehouses, self-storage places, and shopping centres. PV arrays up on those roofs wouldn’t require racks, fencing or any extra security.

    2. Why allocate solar resources to a centrally-controlled system of the sort which has already caused us so much harm? Using the same PV modules to generate power on top of or adjacent to the buildings in which it would be used would reduce demand and eliminate the need for further network expansion.

    3. Why go big rather than small? Australia already has enough roof area to generate all of its electricity a few times over. If electricity were produced by lots of smaller generators we’d have a far better chance of avoiding the abuse we’ve all suffered at the hands of centralised generators and their captured regulators.

    Yes, we have to love big PV installations. But we have to recognise that this approach suits the politics and the megalomaniac instincts of the Sunshine Coast Council better than it serves the needs of citizens.

    • John Saint-Smith

      The land at Valdora isn’t useable as real estate or agriculture. The site is close to major transmission lines so it can be more efficiently ‘uploaded’ into the grid than hundreds of separate installations dispersed over many roofs.
      The Sunshine Coast already has one of the highest penetrations of rooftop solar in Australia. I question your assertion about the ‘much more roof space in a small radius. Look at the photograph!
      I don’t see where you get the idea that this centrally controlled system – which is entirely devoted to Council’s own needs – is going to do us harm.
      I think you’d be better off sticking to the facts rather than accusing the SCRC of ‘megalomaniac instincts’. That diminishes your credibility enormously, I’m afraid.

      • Mathew

        Stan makes some good points but are logistically more difficult for the council maybe. Industrial shed roofs are perfect for solar but may require costly network upgrades nearby.

        • John Saint-Smith

          Might I suggest you and Stan take a visit to the SCRC website where the logistics of the preferred location and the benefits to the people of the Sunshine Coast are explained.

          https://www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/Council/Planning-and-Projects/Major-Regional-Projects/Sunshine-Coast-Solar-Farm

          As it states, the land was selected because it was flood prone, and wasn’t useful as real estate or agricultural land. The panels will be raised above the flood levels, and access during flood times won’t really be a problem.
          Stan gives himself away with his ludicrous and totally unsubstantiated paranoia about megalomania on the part of the Council. I note he hasn’t responded to defend his speculations.

  • Tom laux

    Are they exporting to the grid for 6 cent per kWh and buying it for all the council depots and buildings at 35 cents like the rest of us?

    • Chris

      They are doing an offset arrangement Tom, with the retail margin built in to the deal. A virtual net metering type deal is my understanding. This financial model is one that could be replicated across other councils in Australia if they were prepared to listen and think outside the square a bit. Some are trying to do similar things without really understanding the process to make a project like this happen.

  • Andrew Thaler

    I hope its being built at least 1 mtr higher than sea-level… that big blue thing in the background can be rather unforgiving.