First council-built utility scale solar farm on the horizon

Sunshine Coast Council has taken the next major step towards powering its energy future, signing contracts to design, build, operate and maintain a 15MW solar farm on council-owned land at Valdora.

In doing so, council will become Australia’s first local government organisation to build a utility scale solar farm to offset its entire electricity consumption.

The project will see a 15MW solar farm installed at 909 Yandina-Coolum Road, Valdora. It will be installed on 24ha of a 49ha site.

The solar farm will have more than 57,000 solar panels generating electricity into Energex’s electricity network. The solar farm will, at its peak, generate 15,000kW of electricity from the sun. In one year, the solar farm will generate sufficient electricity to power about 5000 homes.

The solar farm is estimated to save council millions of dollars on its power bills across a 30-year period.

Contracts to design, build, operate and maintain the solar farm have been signed between council and Downer Utilities Australia. Downer Utilities is part of the Downer Group of companies that formed from the 2001 merger of a South-East Queensland company that helped build the Storey Bridge, Evans Deakin Industries, and the New Zealand Company Downer and Co.

Construction of the solar farm is anticipated to begin once detailed engineering designs are finalised, supply chain logistics have been organised and sub-contractors are engaged. Construction is anticipated to occur in the second half of 2016 with commissioning being finalised mid-2017.

The key components of the solar farm will be supplied by ‘tier 1’ manufacturers:

  • solar panels manufactured by Trina Solar
  • centralised inverters manufactured by SMA
  • panel racking manufactured by Schletter

 

Queensland's largest solar farm being built on the Sunshine Coast behind Coolum. Photo: Artist's impression
Artist’s impression of Queensland’s largest solar farm being built on the Sunshine Coast

Queensland’s Local Government Association says nine local governments are also investigating geothermal energy plans.

Mayor Mark Jamieson said councillors were unanimous in pushing ahead with the project after federal funding was rejected.

“It was incredibly frustrating,” Cr Jamieson said.

“We are a big, rapidly growing region that is trying to be an Australian leader in new technologies and in the provision of alternative energy. I would have liked to have thought that the Federal Government would have been more eager to support us.”

Queensland’s Local Government Association is backing investment in geothermal energy plants in nine councils.

“Our infrastructure arm, LGIS, is exploring geothermal energy options for nine councils, representing about 12 townships,” a spokesperson said.

“These would be similar to the Winton geothermal project which is set to save that council $15 million in energy costs and may lead to the entire town going off the grid and being self-sufficient. With solar, LGIS is working with another two councils.”

These geothermal submission shows councils could save $150 million over the next 20 years. Redland City Council is also exploring a solar farm.

About the Valdora site

  • zoned as a suitable site for a renewable energy facility in the Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme 2014 and has received development approval
  • adjacent to Energex’s 33kV power line which is capable of receiving the solar farm’s power output
  • flat and large enough to develop a scale of solar farm which can generate a reliable output to match council’s annual power needs
  • flood prone and presents an engineering challenge which has been met by Downer Utilities Australia. Development approval stipulates that the majority of the solar farm’s components be located at, or above, a height of 3.74m AHD
  • has the optimum solar perspective with no shading, is located away from urban areas and provides limited impacts on the surrounding rural community.