Community Solar on its way to North-West NSW Town

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Manilla, a small town in New South Wales’s (NSW) North-West, is set for one of Australia’s first community-owned solar farms.

Manilla Community Renewable Energy Inc (MCRE) formed in 2013 to develop a community-owned renewable energy project, a goal MCRE is set to achieve through its partnership with Providence Asset Group (PAG), a leading investor in renewable energy projects. 

The duo now comprises Manilla Solar, a community group leading the construction of a 4.9MW solar farm on a 20ha block on the Manilla Road, only 3km away from an electricity substation. The substation’s proximity will allow for easy connection to the grid, meaning the solar farm is as accessible to the market as it is to the local community. The farm’s battery storage capacity means the community can also turn a pretty penny by turning its stored energy back into the market. 

Henry Sun, the appositely named PAG CEO, said Manilla Solar Farm was the first of up to 30 community solar initiatives to be rolled out across regional Australia. “We are thrilled Manilla is the first project to be officially launched and it’s been a pleasure working with people who share our belief in the potential of renewable energy to improve the well-being of communities and the environment – now and for future generations,” said Sun. 

The community model is a ‘win-win’ for both the host and community, so it is no surprise towns around regional Australia are looking to establish their own community solar projects. The small Victorian wheat belt town of Natimuk secured a state government grant in August for the construction of its “entirely community driven” 1.6MW solar farm. 

In July pv magazine Australia spoke with Cam Klose of community solar company Indigo Power. Klose spoke about the litany of community problems community-owned clean energy generation can solve. “Renewable energy provides communities with energy alternatives and affordable solutions,” said Klose, who is working to make the town of Yackandandah 100% renewable, “but not only that, community energy means that people feel the tangible benefits of renewable energy. 

MCRE President Emma Stilts spoke about what an exciting opportunity a community solar project is for Manilla, noting the hard work that has been done so far. “It’s been quite a journey to get to this point, thanks to the efforts of a lot of committed people. So, to be able to formally announce the launch of this solar farm project, in conjunction with PAG – a company that shares our vision for cleaner and greener energy generation – is very satisfying and we’re eagerly anticipating the next steps,” said Stilts. 

This is a particularly exciting stage of the project because local businesses and people now have the chance to invest in the project. Manilla residents can invest in the Manilla Solar Farm knowing they will be getting energy at a cheaper than retail rate and seeing a tidy profit from the energy turned into the grid at times of peak usage. 

Savings and tidy profits are nothing to snoot at in drought-stricken western NSW. “The current doubt has illustrated just how important it is for our region to diversify its industries for the benefit of our local economy, said another appositely named participant, John Sommerlad, Director Business and Community for Tamworth Regional Council. “The potential employment opportunities for local contractors and businesses during the construction phase, and beyond, is great news and the financial and economic returns will flow ell into the future.” 

Construction on Manilla Solar Farm is expected to commence in June 2020, with the hope that the project will be producing clean solar energy by April 2021. Interested investors can register here