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Community Solar Farms Could Be Your New Energy Option

Chow down on an organic feast while steering our city towards a cleaner, greener future.

By Jasmine Crittenden
November 13, 2014
By Jasmine Crittenden
November 13, 2014

If you've been crying enough tears to power a water wheel over current threats to our Renewable Energy Target, here's a chance to take matters into your own hands. A new not-for-profit by the name of Pingala is set on bringing community solar farms to Sydney. They're launching their master plan this Sunday, November 16, with a colossal, locally-sourced party at 107 Projects. There'll be live music from Sydney artists, brews from Young Henry's, food sourced from Hawkesbury-based organic farms and talks from Greens leader Christine Milne, among others. Here, you'll get the chance to learn all about how you can play a role in greening up the city's energy sources.

Pingala is run by a 30-strong bunch of volunteers who "love renewable energy and want to see more of it in Sydney". Though solar farms are pretty common in the UK, Holland and Germany — where an awesome 31 per cent of all electricity generated in the first half of 2014 was sourced from renewables — they've so far been a rare occurrence in Australia. Thanksfully, all that's about to change. Just last week, the Shoalhaven Bowling Club put its new $120,000 solar farm into action, facilitated by a Pingala-style group known as REpower. But, the question remains, how does it all work?

Pingala acts as an intermediary between the public and a potential solar farm host. Members of the community invest money to fund the installation of solar panels on the host site's roof. They, in turn, use and pay for the electricity created. That's until they've bought back the panels, which usually takes about five or six years. Investors are guaranteed to make a profit at a fixed rate (somewhere around 7-8 per cent), while the host can expect to pay about 30 per cent less than they would for power generated by fossil fuels. And, as far as the planet goes, everyone wins.

"There's a lot of benefits for community members, as well as businesses and organisations," says convenor April Crawford-Smith. "Pingala is the intermediary body between them and we're excited to be in that position because it creates relationships and brings our local community together ... When investors sign up, they know exactly what the rate of return is, so it's like a deposit account."

"The Shoalhaven Bowling Club is exactly the model we're trying to achieve," says Pingala Secretary Tom Nockolds. "The investors down there are getting nearly 8 per cent. It's vastly better than what they'd earn through a bank account."

But as much as group-owned solar farms promise significant financial advantages, their positive community and environmental impact is even more exciting. "Any kind of renewable energy is awesome and we love to see it out there," says Nockolds. "When you install a solar panel funded by a private organisation, you get benefits that are financial, environmental and technological. But it's not until you go to a community energy project, where the community is involved in decision-making, development, operation and ownership, that you unlock an additional dimension of benefits. And those are social and political: building awareness of renewable energy to create a political force, building a community in the social sense and building the economy at the local level."

Don't be shy if you're interested in this greenie goodness — Sunday's shindig kicks off at 6.30pm. Tickets are available here or, you can also jump on their site and join their mailing list and/or keep up with developments via Facebook. New volunteers are always welcome.

Photo credit: CFBSr and Activ Solar via photopin cc.

Published on November 13, 2014 by Jasmine Crittenden
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