More than $750 million worth of solar projects is making the Riverina an ideal home for the renewable energy boom.
Simon Grasby from Green Switch Australia, which planned to build a large solar farm at Gregadoo, said good roads, good workers and plenty of sunshine made the region attractive for development.
“If there is to be a number of solar parks built across the region it creates opportunities for existing businesses to help maintain them,” Mr Grasby said. “Everything from fencing contractors, landscape management to look after weeds and long grass, electricians to do maintenance work, these things are planned to last for 25-30 years and local people in the right place have the skills to do that work.”
Across the region, several large scale solar farms are in development. Coleambally is set to host the state’s largest solar farm, with French renewables company Neoen partnering with Energy Australia to put 565,000 panels on 550 hectares, capable of powering 65,000 homes. Neoen is also behind the soon-to-be-completed Griffith solar farm, with 112,000 panels on 100 hectares of land. Hay was also set to get a $150 million solar farm.
In the east, Bomen’s 400,000 panel development will help power Wagga’s industrial estate, while Green Switch’s Gregadoo plans include 122,000 panel on 90 hectares. To the north, Junee was looking at ways to power its community, while Temora had two proposals in the pipeline with the Gidginbung solar farm getting approval last month.
Temora mayor Rick Firman said there were a lot of incentives for building solar and believed there would be more developments in the future.
“Solar certainly seems to be the go, there’s money thrown anywhere and everywhere at the moment,” he said. “I think you’ll find more of this sort of thing happening and it will help the region through the construction phase with employment and ultimately hopefully cheaper power.”
The developments come as the state continue to argue with the federal government over a proposal to merge climate and energy policy – known as the national energy guarantee – which would force electricity retailers to ensure minimum standards of emissions reduction and reliability of supply.
Regardless of the debate on climate policy, Mr Grasby said there were other reasons to embrace renewable power sources.
“It’s fair to say that generating power at a local scale in a local area for local consumption is more efficient and potentially reduces losses across the network,” he said. “There’s a potential for it to be cheaper – we believe (solar) allows for generation of power at a lower cost than traditional fossil fuel plants – but no one can argue it’s not cleaner in terms of emissions and impact on the environment.”