Lismore City Council’s Lismore Community Solar Project is now up and running with the first solar farm installed and generating energy on the roof of the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre.
Lismore Community Solar is a collaboration with Farming the Sun, a not-for-profit renewable energy facilitator, to build two 99kW solar farms in Lismore, the second being a solar farm at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant using innovative floating technology.
Council’s environmental strategies officer, Sharyn Hunnisett, said they are Australia’s first ever council/community solar farms.
‘We believe the floating solar system will be largest floating solar farm in Australia,’ she added.
The project was funded by a financial model unique in Australia. The funds were raised by two companies, each with 20 local investors. The money was then loaned to Lismore council to build the solar farms.
The council says the shareholders will see a return on investment slightly better than that of a bank.
‘After several years of hard work between Council, Farming the Sun, and locals committed to renewable energy, it is incredibly exciting to see this first solar farm now powering one of our biggest facilities’ Ms Hunnisett said.
‘We have had a lot of interest in this project both nationally and internationally. I was a guest speaker at the national Community Energy Congress in Melbourne not long ago and we delivered a workshop to share our model for this project.
‘We had 110 participants from local government and community groups, which shows the interest in this type of community energy project,’ Ms Hunnisett said.
The solar farms are part of the council’s Renewable Energy Master Plan, which aims to self-generate all of council’s electricity from renewable sources by 2023.
Nimbin based solar installer Rainbow Power Company was the successful tenderer for the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre solar farm while the innovative floating solar system will be installed by Suntrix.
Ms Hunnisett says that the floating solar farm will be installed by the end of July, adding that the idea was ‘one of those light-bulb moments.’
‘It basically came about because of spatial constraints. We simply didn’t have enough roof or land space at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant,’ she said. ‘Then it hit us – we have all this space on the water; why not use that?’
The overflow pond at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant provides a large body of water with low velocity, perfect for a floating solar farm. The cooling properties of water help the solar panels last longer and perform better, while increased shade over the pond reduces evaporation and algal growth.
Both solar farm projects have been assisted by funding from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Growing Community Energy grants program.