The take-up of solar power has accelerated throughout the New England North West region, with a local community bulk-buy program adding two per cent more installations in the last eighteen months alone.
“We've seen the level of community interest in solar power grow greatly over the ten years that we have been coordinating the Farming the Sun community collaboration”, said project director, Adam Blakester.
“The take-up through the current community bulk-buy program has sailed past its goal of 1MW, and has resulted in a two per cent increase in the number of solar power systems in the region.”
Farming the Sun is a diverse community solar initiative with programs focusing on solar power, hot water, space heating and cooling as well as Australia's first community-funded council solarfarms, with Lismore City. The collaboration is coordinated by local charity, Starfish Initiatives.
“As a community program, our focus first and foremost is education. We're working to increase the understanding of energy issues and the sustainable options that are available to generate and use energy,” Mr Blakester said.
“By 'sustainable' we are talking about affordability and comfort as well as being environmentally sound. The rapid take-up of solar power in the local region mirrors what is happening right across Australia, which now has the highest proportion of roof top solar in the world.”
He said the capacity of solar power has risen from just 100,000kW in early 2010 to be 7.8 million kW from more than 1.84 million installations, as of March 31 this year.
“Buying electricity over the grid has more than doubled in cost over the last decade,” Mr Blakester said.
“Yet, at the very same time, the cost of electricity from solar power has halved and halved again. On the income side, the price being paid for solar exports has more than doubled in the last few years too.”
The solar specialist partner for the local bulk-buy program is Tamworth based Eco Energy & Solar Solutions (EESS).
“We are excited to announce that EESS and Starfish have agreed to extend the community bulk-buy program with a further 1MW target for the 2018 calendar year,” EESS director Paul Hofman said.
“If we achieve this, it will add a further one to two per cent of solar capacity across the region. Businesses are also eligible to take advantage of the offer and will be in addition to this goal.”
As part of the bulk-buy program, EESS have also donated one per cent of the project income to the New England Sustainability Fund.
“We are proud that in addition to the solar power impact of our partnership, EESS are donating more than $20,000 to fund future sustainability initiatives which are aligned with the priorities identified in the New England Sustainability Strategy,” Mr Hofman said.
Farming the Sun credits its success to being a large-scale community collaboration.
The local community partners for the bulk-buy program have been Armidale Tree Group, Coonabarabran Landcare, Gwydir and Macintyre Resources Management Committee, Liverpool Plains Land Management, North West Alliance, Regional Development Australia Northern Inland, Save our Soils Liverpool Plains, Southern New England Landcare, Sustainable Living Armidale, TAFE New England, Upper Mooki Landcare, Walcha Together and Z-NET Uralla.