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Queensland councils take the lead on renewables

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As the Queensland government works to fill the breach in the state’s large-scale renewable energy development, governments at a local level have been quietly getting on with the job.

A growing number of Queensland shires and local government groups are proposing renewable energy projects of their own as a way to address the rising cost of electricity for them and their ratepayers.

The aptly named Sunshine Coast Council is expected to beat a number of others to the post on this, with plans to begin building its own 15MW solar farm near Coolum before Christmas 2015.

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The Council hopes to meet 100 per cent of its demand for electricity once the plant is at full production, saving it about $9 million over 30 years, Mayor Mark Jamieson has said. In August it was reported that the council was close to announcing the successful tender for the project.

It was the Sunshine Coast council which, in June 2014, predicted such initiatives as theirs would ultimately deliver savings to councils around the country, without the need for assistance.

The council made this prediction in a submission to the Renewable Energy Target Review, along with a warning that removing the RET would likely threaten early projects, such as its own.

“We expect to reach a point where the solar efficiencies delivered allow for projects that are viable in the commercial arena, allowing the more widespread deployment of solar commercially at a cost lower than the current electricity price and without the need for external assistance,” the council said in its submission.

“This scenario would see renewables deliver a real cost saving to all Australian as this would naturally reduce electricity pricing.”

Further inland, in the central west of the state, the Shire of Winton has a different renewable energy plan: to use locally sourced geothermal energy to power all of its local government buildings and infrastructure.

The project has been in the planning since early this year, after Winton Shire Council asked Queensland-based group LGIS to investigate the feasibility of tapping the hot artesian bore water that flows under the town.

And in July, the council resolved to go ahead with the project – a decision LGIS’s director of business solutions, Clinton Parker, described as “commercially based” – and put $3.5 million of local government funds towards the design and construction of two 150kW geothermal plants.

Winton Shire Mayor, “Butch” Lenton, said the bores – a part of the Great Artesian Basin – were found to be “really suitable” for the latest geothermal energy technology, providing water at a temperature of 86°C, and at a flow rate of 72 litres per second.

And the Winton project has sparked interest among the Shire’s neighbours, with LGIS in discussions about geothermal options with a total of eight towns in the region, one of which is already in the concept design phase.

“There’s a lot of momentum, especially with Winton Council passing the funding resolution,” Parker said. “It offers (other councils) a clear direction on how to progress.”

And there is plenty more going on behind the scenes. Redland City Council in July requested its chief executive officer to report back on the viability of the council creating and managing solar farms.

“The consideration of the viability of any option should include the potential for a financial return to the community,” the motion read.

The plan, according to council, is to explore “any and all options” available, according to reports.

“The price of solar has come down so much over the last few years that I think now is the time to look at whether the cost stacks up for residents,” said one councillor.

“This is about getting clean and green energy that has environmental benefits, as well as finding an alternative source of revenue to reduce the cost of living pressure for residents.”

This is part of a series of articles on Queensland sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright. For the others in the series, please click here and also visit Norton Rose Fulbright’s COP21 coverage.  

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