It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the not-for-profit Community Energy 4 Goulburn (CE4G) getting its 1.8 MW community solar farm off the ground but perseverance has paid off with the group now entering into a contract with a developer to build the solar farm.
And, in another breakthrough for the committed local group, former LNP Federal leader Dr John Hewson has accepted the role of Chair of the co-op board that will manage the solar farm.
Australian company Komo Energy is self-financing the total build allowing CE4G to raise the capital from the community as the farm is built.
“It was crucial we formed a partnership with a developer to build it for us. They’ve taken a weight off our shoulders,” CE4G President Ed Suttle said.
“Komo Energy has substantial expertise in the sector. Our next step is to form a co-op to manage the farm and invite people to become members.”
Ce4G has also applied for a grant from the NSW Government’s Regional Community Energy Fund. If successful, this will allow battery storage for the farm.
“Regardless of the outcome of that grant, the project will still go ahead. We hope to be operational by the middle of next year.”
CE4G has already applied for registration of the Goulburn Community Energy Co-operative, which will be the legal entity that owns and operates the solar farm. Proposed co-op chair Dr Hewson, has been supportive of the project since the beginning.
“He launched our feasibility study [in 2016],” Mr Suttle said, “and he was also the keynote speaker at the Goulburn Connects business breakfast back in 2013 when the solar farm was first discussed. He’s been in the background encouraging us and brings real standing and respect to the project, particularly with his expertise in economics and finance.”
Dr Hewson has wide experience as an economist for the Reserve Bank and the IMF, as an adviser to John Howard, as an economics professor at Macquarie University and as a successful businessman. He is currently a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU.
Barrister, a senior law lecturer at UTS and Monash University, and Goulburn resident, Dr Rowena Cantley-Smith has also agreed to join the board. She brings particular expertise in energy, environmental, and climate change law.
Community energy advocate and senior research associate at UTS Nikki Ison will join Dr Hewson and Dr Cantley-Smith on the board.
Komo Energy is currently working on sourcing contractors, equipment, and design work with construction on the solar farm’s Bridge Street, Goulburn, site expected to begin early in the new year.
“We won’t be the first community-owned solar farm in Australia, but we will be the biggest. The project is such a bonus for Goulburn. The solar farm is located in the centre of the Goulburn community and the renewable sector in this region,” Mr Suttle said.
“It is also located near the northern entrance to Goulburn from the Hume Highway and adjacent to the main southern railway line to Melbourne. It’s very visible.”
The aim of the project has always been to produce renewable energy in the region and to offer local people the opportunity to invest in the project, Mr Suttle said. “This keeps the profits within the community, rather than sending money to big companies who have little connection with this region.”
A prospectus is expected to go out to the community in 2020.