Photo: The Sunshine Coast Council says 15 other councils around the country are keen to pursue solar. (Supplied: Sunshine Coast Council)
When it comes to tackling rising energy prices, a Queensland council has taken an innovative approach and built its own $50 million solar farm to fully offset all its power needs.
- Valdora solar facility is the 2nd largest in Queensland and 6th largest nationally
- Its $50m dollar capital cost expects at least $22m in saving over 30 years
- Annual electricity output could power up 5,000 homes
The 15 megawatt (MW) solar farm at Valdora was officially powered up today.
The Sunshine Coast Council is now the first local government in Australia with 100 per cent of its electricity consumption from a renewable source.
Power from the solar farm will feed into the Energex network and supply all council-run facilities including administration buildings, community centres, sporting facilities, holiday parks and libraries.
Mayor Mark Jamieson said it was a proud day for the Sunshine Coast.
"We're the first level of government in the country that is providing an offset of 100 per cent renewable energy and that's a pretty special occasion," the Mayor said."Our solar farm is the first, and will be the largest, to connect to the electricity grid in south-east Queensland.
"It is also the first solar farm in Australia to operate at 1500 volts DC which enables it to operate more efficiently."
Criticism and cost savingsThe project was a number of years in the making and not without criticism.
"(It) received some very negative commentary early on from people who doubted our ability to pull this together and I think that was a real sad contradiction of our community," Cr Jamieson said.
Photo: The 57,850 solar panels will power all Sunshine Coast Council facilities including libraries, sports centres and holiday parks. (ABC Sunshine Coast: Frances Adcock)
Council fully funded the project with no support from state or federal governments which the mayor said was "regrettable".
"Nonetheless it will provide our ratepayers with a great deal of certainty, confidence about the impact we're having on our environment through renewables and we'll save them money as well into the future," he said.
We always hear that renewable energy is getting cheaper, but what does that really mean?
The Mayor said based on today's electricity prices, a conservative savings estimate was $22 million over 30 years after costs.
"Whilst that isn't a significant amount when you divide it by all the ratepayers, what is important is that that's $22 million that can be invested in something else," he said."We already pay about $9 million a year for power bills for council and there are forecasts that's going to rise astronomically, so as they go higher so our savings increase from the utilisation of the solar farm."
Cr Jamieson said council would be seen as a leader in the country for renewable energy.
"There are certainly councils all around Australia very eager to learn what we're doing so hopefully this becomes a model for many others," he said.
Photo: Construction on the $50m project took more than 12 months. (ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew)
At today's opening, Queensland's Assistant Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Glenn Butcher, agreed the Sunshine Coast solar farm would set the platform for other councils.
While the project had no state or federal government backing, Mr Butcher would not rule out the Queensland Government supporting new proposals.
"The State Government is obviously willing to look at different projects as they come along. We are offering land available in different sectors in Queensland for these types of projects, particularly in private investment," he said.
"Looking forward there may be an opportunity where the Queensland Government can develop a similar type of facility like this so that they remain in the hands of Queensland people ... [which is] obviously not happening at the moment, but it is something we may look at into the future."