Sunshine Coast to build own solar farm

QUEENSLAND’s Sunshine Coast Council is a step closer to becoming Australia’s first local government to build a solar farm to offset its entire electricity consumption.
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Staff Reporter

The council has lodged a development application to build the 15 megawatt utility-scale solar farm at Valdora on the Sunshine Coast, which will see it install photovoltaic panels on 24ha of the 49ha site.

Mayor Mark Jamieson said the project would provide certainty and combat rising electricity costs.

“This project will see us proactively take control of our electricity supply while reducing our carbon emissions from electricity consumption to zero, contributing to council’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2020,” he said.

It also aligns with a range of council policies, such as the Economic Development Strategy, Climate Change and Peak Oil Strategy, and the Energy Transition Plan, all of which underwent extensive community consultation and 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 solar PV panels on private and commercial rooftops in the Sunshine Coast has reached 95MW. In the past 12 months alone it 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 changes in the solar industry and includes much greater detail than the previous Material Change of Use (MCU) application lodged 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 15MW;
  • Additional information about the project’s financial feasibility generated through the expression of interest process undertaken by council in 2013 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.

Energex asset manager north Steve Lynch said Energex has been working with the council on the 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,” he said.

A decision on the development application is expected early next year when council will take a final vote on whether to approve the project’s start. The council anticipates calling for tenders in the first quarter of 2015, with construction starting soon after.