ACT News

ACT invites mum and dad investors to back grass-roots solar

The ACT government opened another mum-and-dad solar scheme on Monday, inviting groups to set up large-scale community solar arrays which ordinary householders can buy into.

The feed-in tariff - the amount the groups will be paid for the power fed into the electricity grid - is far less generous than the 50c a kilowatt hour paid to the householders who installed solar panels during the first years of the rooftop scheme.

Groups setting up the new community large-scale solar farms will be paid 20c a kilowatt hour for 20 years. Householders will pay a lump sum to invest in the scheme, and will earn a dividend on that investment.

The 20c a kilowatt hour is slightly higher than the amount (about 17c to 19c a kilowatt hour) being paid to the three commercial solar farms that won the right to feed electricity into the ACT grid for 20 years.

The first of those solar arrays, Royalla, is expected to begin operating in the next three months. The other two, Uriarra and Mugga Lane, are still in planning.

Together, they will produce 40MW of solar power. Environment and Sustainable Development Minister Simon Corbell has also called for expressions of interest for a solar farm capable of producing 50MW of solar power, using new technologies.

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The community scheme is for just 1MW of electricity, enough to power 250 Canberra homes for a year. The minimum size is 200 kilowatts.

Mr Corbell anticipated multiple schemes would bid for a share. They might build ground-mounted solar arrays “in a field somewhere”, or multiple rooftop arrays. It was up to the groups to secure the land or access to a big enough rooftop.

People who signed up for household solar in 2009 are being paid 50c a kilowatt hour for power fed into the grid for 20 years (people signing up after that got less, 47.7c, then 34.5c, before the scheme was closed).

Asked about the much lower price for the community schemes, Mr Corbell said three or four years ago the price of installing solar was twice was it is now. “The old feed-in tariff schemes that are now closed reflected those costs at that point in time,” he said. “We’re now dealing with a very different series of economic circumstances in relation to solar and the price is meant to reflect that.”

Asked how mum-and-dad investors would be protected under the community-owned schemes, Mr Corbell said it was a requirement that only community-owned structures could bid and benefits must be shared among the members. Groups might be run as a co-operative, a privately owned company with community shareholders, or a hybrid. A private solar developer might build the array then transfer it to the community owned group, he said.

“They will have to demonstrate that it’s a truly community-owned structure where the individuals who own the generator are receiving the benefit,” he said.

“The way this will work is that we will receive proposals from proponents who have put together a community-based ownership structure and the necessary technical and financial capacity to deliver the project. They will need to present all of the information to the government to allow us to assess their bid and their bone fides.”

Mr Corbell said there was a groundswell of people interested in the schemes. One is Solar Share, started by See Change. Project leader Lawrence McIntosh said 360 people had signed up to date, with a minimum investment of $350, and most people investing between $1000 and $5000. They had recently gone to tender for someone to build a 1MW farm - and expected to announce the winning bidder soon.

He said the feed-in price of 20c was “tight” but industry had stepped up.

“It’s really come through that there are companies out there that are willing to sharpen their pencil to be involved in a community type project,” he said.