Farmer-owned solar farms set for SA

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A solar power project in Australia’s largest grape growing region could open up a new income stream for farmers. A solar power project in Australia’s largest grape growing region could open up a new income stream for farmers. A solar power project in Australia’s largest grape growing region could open up a new income stream for farmers.

An electrical services company in South Australia’s Riverland is planning to build dozens of farmer-owned solar farms and sell the energy on Australia’s open energy market.

 

Renmark-based Yates Electrical Services began its Red Mud project this year and has been running a 180kW test site for about three months now.

The project aims to work with farmers to set up 100kW-200kW solar farms and then sell the energy onto the national electricity grid.

Yates Electrical Services managing director Mark Yates explains that, under the Red Mud project, landowners can either lease their land to be used for a solar farm, lease the land and buy into a portion of the solar farm or choose to own the entire solar farm outright.

 "Effectively with Red Mud, everything the site generates in the form of energy and the Large Generation Certificates are retained locally in the community," Yates says.

A typical 200kW farm would cover an acre (4,000sq m), include 800 solar panels on ground-mounted racks, cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to set up and return about $40,000 a year, according to Yates.

Originally a citrus and stone fruit growing region, the Riverland turned to wine grapes in the 1980s and ’90s and now produces a quarter of Australia’s wine grapes.

But low prices in recent years have many growers considering their future in the industry.

"There are a lot of growers in the Riverland who may have taken exit grants or who may be reconsidering the value of reinvesting back into vines or citrus, because of high water prices and low fruit prices," Yates says.

"We do have very affordable land and a good solar resource and there are a lot of people questioning whether they should continue on with grapes."

"Probably 50 percent of the visits we’ve done are people who have sold their water licence and the water or people who may have kept their licence but on-sold their water.

"Effectively they’ve got land but they don’t have any water to put on it, so the idea of growing crops is completely out the window."

Spot market electricity prices are subject to wild fluctuations due to variable demand and supply caused by factors such as temperature and wind.

They can be as high as $14 per kilowatt, or hit zero and even negative numbers.

Yates and his team have so far conducted about 40 site visits for landowners interested in taking up the scheme.

The first commercial site, which will be a 50/50 partnership between the landowner and Red Mud is on track to begin generating energy by early August this year.

 

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