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06 June 2019
By DEAN LAWSON
The leader of a group working towards turning a $2.5-million community solar farm near Natimuk from concept into a reality remains confident the project will go ahead.
Natimuk Community Energy president Edwin Irvine said the group was pursuing funding opportunities to take the project to a development stage.
He said the group had established a strong case to pursue the Natimuk Community Owner Renewable, NCOR, farm project and was now working towards approvals, studies and design works.
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“We hope to submit a planning-permit application by the end of the year after we discuss the project further with neighbouring landowners and other authorities,” he said.
“Horsham Rural City Council has given us a community grant for the application and that provides us with a chance to take the first step in the process.
“We would hope to be in a position by the end of the year to put down more definitive time frames.
“All we can do at the moment is identify the steps we need to take.
“We feel like Olympic hurdler Sally Pearson at the moment. We can see the hurdles, know how big and where they all are and in what order they are in. We also know we can’t do this until we jump all of them.”
Natimuk Community Energy Group, which has been involved in a variety of renewable-energy projects in the Wimmera town, wants to build the solar 4572-panel farm on 2.24-hectares east of Natimuk.
Critically, the group’s fundamental guideline is that the community maintain at least a 51 percent, or controlling interest, in the project and the economic spoils it generates.
Mr Irvine said a combination of financial and environmental benefits and long-term sustainability for Natimuk district was behind the solar farm.
“We’re at a juncture where communities can take charge of their power generation and use,” he said.
“The one thing we won’t step away from is community ownership. The concept is that all the money that goes into it, stays in the community.”
Mr Irvine said financing a study into grid connection loomed as a primary challenge.
“This is the big risk area. We’ve had quotes ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, which we don’t have,” he said.
“This is obviously a hurdle considering that after getting the study done there is no guarantee it will win us approval. But, we’re confident it all stacks up and we hope to resolve this in the future.”
Mr Irvine said the solar farm, which would be relatively small by renewable-energy-farm standards, might need to partner with a retail power company that shared similar values with the community group.
He also said making sure Natimuk was a primary beneficiary amid the complex sale of electricity was paramount.
“As a producer we can’t be a retailer and can’t sell the power directly to the people of Natimuk. So we have to come up with a way to achieve what we want,” he said.
“The ultimate goal is to create a self-sustaining industry that benefits Natimuk in some or many ways.
“We’ve spent the past 12 months lobbying governments and been very well supported by the State Government. We also have a clear understanding of community responsibilities in making sure we give back based on what we receive.”
Mr Irvine said the community solar farm project was farm from unique and instead tapped into an idea of creating a network of relatively small community-generated regional energy farms across the country.
“What is really obvious is that many large multinational companies are moving into large renewable-energy developments. Renewable energy makes money and big business knows that. Opportunity is rife for communities to do the same thing,” he said.
“My professional history is in project and land management and my role in the next 12 months is to treat this like a development project and take necessary steps to move forward.”
The entire June 5, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!