Community solar to take Victoria town to 100% renewables

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The small Victorian wheat belt town of Natimuk has reached a milestone in its transition to 100% renewable energy, securing a state government grant for a major solar project. The “entirely community driven” 1.6 MW solar farm will be producing the equivalent of the town’s annual energy needs.

The Andrews government is providing of a $339,000 grant, which will assist Natimuk’s community-owned solar farm to finalise the necessary approvals, connection studies, develop detailed design and operational plans and develop a financial model and market prospectus to attract investment for the construction phase.

“Through this grant we are empowering the Natimuk community to fully harness the benefits of locally produced clean energy and cut their power prices,” Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said.

After making a commitment to zero waste and zero emissions in 2007, Natimuk has seen an impressive solar uptake of around 30% of households with PV and 15% with solar hot water systems on the back of several community-based bulk-purchase projects.

As for its next step, the town is readying to develop the solar farm to cover the remainder of its annual electricity consumption. Presently, project developer Natimuk Community Energy is working with consulting partner Ekistica on a business case for the installation, including assessing the feasibility and economics of a variety of sites, off-take agreements, and financial models.

With a policy vacuum on a federal level, a number of promising developments are taking place in regional communities. In Victoria, for instance, Yackandandah has already done a lot towards reaching its 100% renewables goal by 2022, while the town of Newstead is looking to develop a 10 MW solar farm as it transitions towards the same goal.