Sunshine Coast Council has today taken the next step in becoming Australia’s first local government organisation to build a solar farm.
Council has lodged a Material Change of Use (MCU) development application to build a 15 megawatt (MW) solar farm at Valdora to offset the organisation’s entire electricity consumption at its facilities and operations.
Subject to the outcome of the development application and tender process, the project will see a utility-scale* solar farm installed on 24 of the site’s 49 hectares.
The solar farm is estimated to save Sunshine Coast Council millions of dollars over a 30-year period based on today’s electricity costs, which are anticipated to increase substantially in the future.
Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said every Coast ratepayer would benefit from the certainty this project provided as it would combat the Council’s rising electricity costs and minimise future rate increases.
“As every ratepayer knows, electricity costs have escalated over the past decade and there’s no telling where the increases will stop, leaving Council at high risk,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“This project will see us proactively take control of our electricity supply while reducing our carbon emissions from electricity consumption to zero, also contributing to Council’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2020.
“This is certainly an exciting initiative which not only provides real savings for Council and therefore our ratepayers; it also positions us as leaders in the renewable energy space.
“We will be the first council to build a solar farm at utility scale in Australia and our residents can be very proud of the impact this will have as we strive to become Australia’s most sustainable region.
“The project also aligns with a range of Council policy documents such as the Economic Development Strategy, Climate Change and Peak Oil Strategy, and the Energy Transition Plan which all underwent extensive community consultation, including review from external expert reference groups.
“The Energy Transition Plan specifically includes facilitating large-scale clean energy production and solar power stations as a key action.”
The combined total generating capacity of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the Sunshine Coast has reached 95MW and in the past 12 months alone, solar PV capacity on private and commercial rooftops has increased by 15MW – the equivalent of the proposed solar farm’s capacity.
The Valdora land is already zoned for a renewable energy facility in the Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme 2014.
The current development application takes into account significant changes in the solar industry and includes much greater detail than the previous Material Change of Use (MCU) application which was prepared in 2010 and lodged and assessed in 2011.
Mayor Jamieson said the new MCU application benefited from a body of work completed since 2013, including:
· Independent business case reviews by an investment bank and business advisory firm with experience in commercialisation of renewable energy technology;
· An Energex feasibility study which indicated grid connection could occur and that the generating capacity of the solar farm could be increased up to 15 MW;
· Significant additional information about the project’s financial feasibility generated through the Expression of Interest process undertaken by Council in 2013 and which assisted in shortlisting potential partners to build the solar farm; and
· More detailed and up-to-date geotech and flood study information as well as reviews of the traffic, ecological, visual and reflectivity impacts.
“This information has all had some impact on the scope of the project reflected in the MCU we have lodged, which delivers a much better result for Council and the community,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“The MCU application will be assessed by a qualified and independent planning consultant who will be responsible for providing a recommendation to Council on the merits of the MCU.
“This is essential to ensure appropriate due diligence is undertaken and there is transparency in regard to processing the development application.
“Given the site is already zoned for a renewable energy facility in the 2014 Planning Scheme, the assessment will primarily focus on the appropriate design and layout of the solar farm with regard to its potential impacts.
“This next step demonstrates that key stakeholders such as Energex, the Department of Transport and Main Roads and the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning have the opportunity to provide their respective inputs and requirements in regard to the proposal and to date these agencies remain supportive.”
Energex Asset Manager North Steve Lynch said Energex had been working with Council on this project for some time and provided a feasibility report in 2013 confirming the network capacity at this site.
“The site is optimal from Energex’s perspective, being adjacent to an existing 33,000 volt line which will minimise grid connection costs,” Mr Lynch said.
The MCU will now follow the usual process for development applications within Council with a result expected early next year, when council will take a final vote on whether to approve the project commencing.
It is anticipated Council will consider tenders in the first quarter of 2015, with construction starting soon after.
For more information on the solar farm, visit council’s website www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au