Canberrans raise $3.07M to build nation’s largest community solar farm

Originally published in The Canberra Times by Georgina Connery

ACT investors have pledged $3.07 million to Australia’s largest community solar project planned to be built on a Canberra vineyard.

The project has secured the full capital investment required and plans tabled with the ACT government await final approval.

Deb Cleland, Reuben Layton Thompson, and Jeff Layton Thompson are set to invest several thousand in Australia’s largest community-owned solar farm proposed for this site at Majura.

Jeff Layton Thompson and his partner Deb Cleland count themselves as “mum and dad investors” who are passionate about making sensible but also ethical choices with their portfolio.

The couple are among 533 backers signed up to put their hard earned into the solar farm that, when built, will generate enough electricity to power 250 Canberra houses.

Jeff Layton Thompson said being part of the milestone project was a way to take an active role in the growth of the renewable energy sector.

Standing in the paddock set to host 5000 solar panels Mr Layton Thompson said it was a good feeling to be a “backer rather than a bystander” when it came to realising renewables.

“Sometimes you cheer on say, the ACT government, they’ve done a solar farm there, another there, but if you can get involved in it, it’s a good long-term investment,” he said.

Ms Cleland has a broader portfolio and said she was confident the move would generate at minimum 5 per cent return for their family.

She said the couple may have thought twice investing in a similar project outside the capital.

“My brother got burnt pretty badly with retrospective changes to tariffs in NSW, so I was wary of that,” she said. “There’s strong community support, the leadership from government was there, and the model was right.”

Goulburn is hot on the heels of Canberra working through similar steps toward a community funded solar farm expected to be the same size, if not a fraction larger.

SolarShare project leader Lawrence McIntosh said he and volunteer organisers were working toward an early 2018 built should approval be granted in the coming months.

“The program we have applied to through the ACT government is where there will be a fixed price for the energy generated,” he said. “We have applied for a $200 a megawatt hour and they are considering that along with the other aspects of our application.”

ACT Environment and Planning and Sustainable Development directorate spokeswoman confirmed the government was undertaking a technical review of the SolarShare Canberra proposal, tabled on May 26, and the process would result in the award of a feed-in-tariff entitlement.

“The Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability will make the final decision regarding the outcome of the process,” she said.

A recommendation is expected from the minister in the coming months.