Enova Community Energy has announced that it has installed Australia’s first solar garden and pioneered the systems and processes that will distribute its benefits to solar gardeners who are North Coast Community Housing tenants.
The financial benefits generated by a 35-kilowatt solar array situated on the rooftop of North Coast Community Housing in Lismore, NSW, are being distributed in the form of energy bill credits to 19 social housing tenants, four community organisations and North Coast Community Housing.
A solar garden is a centrally-located solar PV array where solar gardeners receive a credit on their electricity bill for the solar generation of the panels – similar to if the panels were on their own roof.
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Enova Community Energy Chair, Alison Crook, said the distribution of new locally generated renewable energy is key to Enova’s vison of building resilient communities and this solar garden is a key milestone for Enova.
“Overcoming regulatory and system barriers has been a huge aspect of this project and I’m thrilled to announce that we’ve done it. Enova Community Energy has paved the way for solar gardens in Australia to take off, for the first time,” said Alison.
North Coast Community Housing CEO John McKenna said social housing tenants have for the most part been unable to access the benefits of solar. “Hosting this solar garden generates real and immediate impacts. Financial relief for tenants and funds that NCCH would otherwise have spent on electricity bills, recirculated back into our work.”
The NCCH garden is a social model fully funded by project partners NCCH, COREM and Splendour in The Grass. Parallel to this development Enova aims to deliver a commercial, community-owned solar garden, which solar gardeners can buy into, in the coming six months.
Enova CEO Felicity Stening said, “Creating the first behind the meter solar garden in this country truly marks a turning point. This is taking local, distributed renewable energy right back to where it belongs: with the people in communities.”
The financial benefits of the 100-panel solar garden will be distributed throughout the community. Over its 20-year life span the project will save approximately $160,000 for the solar gardeners and NCCH in the form of a monthly or quarterly credit on their Enova electricity bill.
Felicity said, “This project provides the proof of concept that will inform our future solar gardens. We’ll be working in partnership with community housing organisations throughout the country to deliver more solar gardens, strengthen communities and provide solar access to those locked out.”
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Enova has been part of a collective effort by the community energy sector to establish solar gardens in Australia. It has built on the work of the Social Access Solar Gardens project led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures and the Community Power Agency, funded by the NSW Government and ARENA.
Elizabeth Noble, Director at Community Power Agency, the foremost advocacy group for solar gardens in Australia, said, “Solar gardens are popular overseas, particularly in the USA where over 20 states have passed laws to encourage their development.
“We’d like to highlight that Enova’s first solar garden has been built specifically for social housing tenants. Enova are true pioneers in this space. The social dimension and potential of solar gardens very much marks the development of community-led solar gardens in Australia. Congratulations to Enova for making this a priority.”
According to CPA, more than one third of Australian households are locked out of accessing the benefits of rooftop solar. Solutions like solar gardens are important to show that solar for all is possible.