Newcastle City Council secures solar farm funding

Newcastle City Council secures solar farm funding

Newcastle City Council has secured a $6.5 million loan from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to help build what will be the region’s biggest solar farm.

The 5 MW installation, to be based west of the city at the Summerhill Waste Management Centre, will cover an area of around five football fields between Summerhill’s entry road and construction-waste area, on a capped landfill site that was once part of the Wallsend Borehole Colliery.

The farm builds on what has been described as one of Australia’s most advanced renewable energy set-ups at a waste facility, with a 2.2 MW landfill gas generator and a small wind turbine already located at Summerhill. Electricity generated will flow into the nearby Ausgrid substation to offset electricity used at council facilities across the local government area.

The installation is projected to reduce council’s annual $4 million electricity bill, after it doubled in the past two years. Overall, the facility will save the city around $9 million over its 30-year life after construction and operational costs are factored in.

“The solar farm will produce enough energy to run the equivalent of 1300 households, which promises significant environmental returns for ratepayers and millions of dollars in savings on electricity costs,” said Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.

“We are building sustainability into everything we do after reiterating our commitment last year to generate 30% of our electricity needs from low-carbon sources and cut overall electricity usage by 30% by 2020.

“Increasing our renewable energy capability and finding more energy-efficient solutions is an integral part of our long-term vision to become a smart, livable and sustainable city.”

The installation’s 14,500 panels will be built by international property and infrastructure group Lendlease, with most of the finance lent through the CEFC’s Local Government Finance Program, which offers councils flexible and competitive fixed-rate, long-term finance. Lendlease is teaming up with renewable energy specialist Energy Made Clean (EMC) to design and build the facility.

“We are delighted to work with Newcastle City Council on this landmark project, and to see its exciting transition to a sustainable city of the future,” said CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth.

“Councils across Australia administer a vast network of streetlights, community centres, libraries, sport and recreation facilities and other public access buildings. Newcastle is leading the way in financing a solar farm through the CEFC to help it manage the energy costs of these facilities.

“We encourage other councils to also invest in clean energy, which can free up council finance for other community-enhancing projects while locking in longstanding environmental and economic benefits for their communities.”

Council received development approval for the $8 million project from the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) last month, and preliminary works are now underway at Summerhill. Construction is expected to begin in June.

Image courtesy Newcastle City Council.

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