WA solar business gets $4m in funding

Plico Energy has locked in $2.4 million from investors while also agreeing to a $1.6 million debt facility with a major lender, with the funds to go towards its WA marketing initiatives.

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Local social licence cooperatives are taking over pubs, stores, solar farms to save country towns

When Terry Malone learnt management at his local watering hole was about to call last drinks forever, he knew something had to be done. It was a matter of saving the pub to save the town.

“We had a dying hotel,” Mr Malone said.

“It was going to close. It had closed twice before and wasn’t good for the town. And it was going to happen again.

“So a few of us were wondering what we could do about it. No-one really wanted to own a hotel outright.

Mr Malone now chairs the Lockington Community Hotel Cooperative, which yesterday celebrated its first anniversary owning and running the pub in the northern Victorian town, population 800.

Lockington, 200 kilometres north of Melbourne, is the latest in a string of communities in regional Victoria forming cooperatives to buy into businesses and keep much-needed services — pubs, stores and post offices — open to keep towns alive.

It’s what’s known as social licence, or residents’ willingness to take ownership of their community’s future.

“The co-op has been remarkable,” Mr Malone said.

“It’s what small towns have got to do these days.

People feel ownership

It all centred around the local pub.

The Lockington residents visited Sea Lake and Nandaly in north-west Victoria where the co-op models had been implemented successfully.

The cooperative management model requires residents to buy into a share of the business, for instance, in lots of $5,000.

Lockington Community Hotel Co-operative chair Terry Malone says the volunteer-based model of the pub gives residents social licence.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

“We knew that that co-op model was for us,” Mr Malone said.

“The community are behind it.

“The good part of it is, the money stays in the town, a lot of it does, and people feel ownership of the hotel and it is part of the town now.

The Lockington pub now has 96 shareholders with a capital of $600,000.

Locals take over general store

Following their success, the Lockington co-op helped the nearby town of Colbinabbin take over the struggling general store.

The facade of a store carries the words 'Colbinabbin General Store'.
The Colbinabbin General Store has been taken over by a community co-operative made up of residents from across the farming district.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

The tiny town of about 300 people formed a cooperative to keep the store running when it came close to closing.

Its chair, Matt McEvoy, said the cooperative approach relied on social licence, or residents’ willingness to take ownership of their town’s future.

“The benefit of using a cooperative is that you can input a lot of your labour costs for renovating and restoring the general store with volunteers and you also inspire a little bit more buy-in into the general store,” he said.

A tall man in a purple jumper smiles at the camera
Chair of the Colbinabbin General Store Co-operative, Matt McEvoy, says keeping the general store open will allow the town to capitalise on the silo art attraction.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Silo art attracts business

The Colbinabbin store now has 300 shareholders in a farming district with a population of about 400.

It means Colbinabbin can capitalise on the growing interest in the town’s wheat silos, painted by artist by Tim Bowtell in March as part of regional Victoria’s Silo Art Trail

“From there, all those people travelling through to see the silo art, [the store] becomes an attraction in itself,” Mr McEvoy said.

“We can support other local businesses in the process and we’re kind of tying the whole community together rather than it just being a one stop, look at the silos, then people move on again.”

A man smiles as he looks at product on a supermarket shelf.
Colbinabbin resident Roger Kiddle looks over the product on the shelf of the Colbinabbin General Store as part of stocktake.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Now that Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions allow metropolitan and interstate travellers to the regions again, the silo art is attracting carloads of onlookers to the town.

David and Rosalind Wright, from Pearcedale in Melbourne’s south-east, have visited several of the decorated silos in regional Victoria.

Ms Wright said the farming district of northern Victoria has a special place for them.

“My grandfather used to preach at the church here [in Colbinabbin] many long years ago.

“We’ve seen the other [silos] at Devenish and Goorambat, but these ones are fantastic.

An elderly couple wearing bucket hats stand in front of wheat silos painted with art.
David and Rosalind Wright, from Melbourne’s south-east, have travelled regional Victoria following the silo art trail.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Co-op runs town post office

The community of Bridgewater, just outside of Bendigo, earlier this month celebrated the one-year anniversary of taking over the town’s post office.

Melina Morrison is the chief executive officer at the Business Council of cooperatives and Mutuals and said regional communities are under pressure to to find a model that works for small business.

“They [cooperatives] reinvest 100 per cent of the profits back into the local economy, because that’s where the owners are,” she said.

Going green with community solar farm

Newstead is doing things a little differently in their quest to build a community solar farm in the idyllic Central Victoria town, 138 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.

A man in a blue shirt and short brown hair and a lady with white hair and a vibrant blue jacket talk to a person off camera
Don Culvenor and Genevieve Barlow are two of Newstead’s residents leading the community’s effort to build a solar farm.(ABC Central Victoria: Beth Gibson)

Renewable Newstead committee member Genevieve Barlow said the community decided to not go with the cooperative model because it will be operated by commercial partners and the electricity retailed off.

“As a small community and a small band of volunteers it takes a lot of time to do that and, perhaps, we don’t have the skills, and there is a lot of risk in that,” she said.

“So we felt that was best to leave that to the experts.

Its plans are with the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne and, as of mid-November, a decision was expected by Christmas.

The Victorian and Federal Governments have committed to upgrading the state’s electricity transmission network by building KerangLink by 2027, which will allow the 4.4 gigawatts of planned solar farms to access the grid.

Geoff Turner is the executive officer at the Murray River Group of Councils and said the community solar farm model is a solution to the lack of large-scale solar farms being built in Victoria.

“These smaller projects are going to take some of the pressure off the grid and be a short-term solution while we wait the 10 or 15 years for these large-scale projects to really come on stream,” he said.

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Total solar eclipse wows crowds in Latin America | World News

Thousands of people who turned up in the Chilean region of La Araucania to witness the rare experience of a total solar eclipse were not left disappointed, with poor weather doing little to dampen their excitement.

Despite the limited visibility due to cloudy skies, the large crowds – who donned their face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 – were able to watch the moon black out the sun, plunging daytime into darkness.

Many jumped and shouted in the rain when the sun was totally covered by the moon, followed by moments of silence afterwards and then more screams and cheering when the sun re-appeared.

A rare sight of a total solar eclipse in La Araucania, Chile
Total solar eclipse
Onlookers described the solar eclipse as a ‘spectacular’ and ‘unique’ sight

Diego Fuentes, who had travelled with his family to see the eclipse, said: “It was worth the two minutes.”

Another onlooker, Catalina Morales, said she “liked it a lot”, adding: “It was good that there were clouds because we could see it a little without glasses.”

Her father Cristian described it as “spectacular, a unique experience”.

During the brief period of darkness, the only light was that from people’s mobile phones.

There were some similarly impressive views in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, as well as in some African nations and above parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

But the best images came from Chile, where the next total solar eclipse is not due for another 28 years.

Total solar eclipse
Thousands turned up to see the eclipse across Latin America
Total solar eclipse
Many attendees wore face masks during the event

The indigenous Mapuche people from La Araucania traditionally believe that the total eclipse signals the temporary death of the sun after a battle with the moon – and what follows is a series of negative events.

Diego Ancalao, member of a Mapuche community and head of an Indigenous foundation that promotes development, noted that a July 2019 eclipse was followed by civil unrest in Chile and later the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Men’s Shed power up tools with new solar system | Goulburn Post

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The Crookwell Men’s Shed will offset their energy bills and help reduce greenhouse emissions with the installation of a Solahart solar power system. Members of the Men’s Shed received $8000 funding for the solar panels and installation. The grant was awarded by the Crookwell II Wind Farm as part of its community enhancement fund. Read also: Secretary Don Southwell said the system would save its members a substantial amount of money. “We have put enough panels in to adequately cover the cost of electricity and if we make any profit it will go back to the shed,” he said. The installation would reduce the Shed’s yearly electricity bill by around $1600 each year, he said. Locally owned Solahart Goulburn and Southern Highlands installed the system on December 8. Owner Carmel Donnan said it would not only save on the cost of power bills, “but also leave a legacy for future Men’s Shed members.” She said, “the system will generate almost 8000-kilowatt hours per year reducing greenhouse emissions by six and a half tonnes per annum.” The Men’s Shed in Crookwell meets on Monday and Wednesday and offers a place to men – and women, who meet on Tuesday – to knock around with a group of mates and participate meaningfully in their community. We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.


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Greater Hume Council considers rescission motion for Glenellen Solar | The Border Mail

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“Enormous pressure” from residents has brought too much emotion into councillors’ decision-making on solar, says Greater Hume mayor Heather Wilton. A formal position on the Glenellen project decided on November 18 was thrown out at an extraordinary meeting, after a rescission motion was successfully led by Cr Lea Parker. “Considering that councillors’ consistent stance was to object to solar farm developments, this being the fourth one, I was very surprised [with last week’s decision],” she said. “Unfortunately, two councillors including myself were unable to be present, and I thought with such a sensitive and important subject, that it was important for all councillors to be present for that kind of motion. “Our concerns have not disappeared.” Councillor Tony Quinn, whose motion was ultimately passed last week, said it “hit hard a couple of serious points” about traffic problems and developer contributions, arguing he could “poke holes” in council’s previous objections. Cr Quinn was warned by general manager Steven Pinnuck he was “bordering on a breach of the code of conduct” after he questioned the objectivity of environment and planning director Colin Kane’s submissions. Cr Quinn and Cr Wilton voted against a motion that reinstated Mr Kane’s objecting submission. “There is a really serious need for us to dig deep into our conscience and see if we haven’t got a conflict of interest over this one,” Cr Wilton said. “Because I think a lot of these decisions are being made because of pressure from family, friends, [and] neighbours. “The pressure has been tremendous. “If you vote in favour or against … and you’re listening to emotive factors and not the reality of what planning says and planning law is, that’s when we’ll all get into trouble.” Mr Kane’s objecting submission was reinstated with the support of the majority and will become council’s formal position to the NSW government. Some councillors are at odds with the staff’s recommendation for construction traffic to go through Jindera. The developers are proposing to take Glenellen Road but engineering director Greg Blackie’s advice is that traffic should go through Urana Road. On Urana Road, there are over 760 heavy vehicles, of which 100 or so are B-Doubles, and Glenellen Road takes 22 heavy vehicles of which two are B-Doubles. “Adding 50 trucks a day, which is what the EIS has said, would more than triple the amount of heavy vehicles on Glenellen Road, whereas it would be about a 10th [of traffic] on Urana Road,” Mr Blackie said. IN OTHER NEWS: He has concerns about safety and deterioration with the road needing to be widened, among other things. A motion was passed to put specific recommendations to the NSW government, such as that heavy vehicle traffic should avoid school hours. If the Glenellen Solar Farm is approved, a traffic management study and plan would need to be done.


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Bid lodged to alter council’s formal position on fourth solar farm | The Border Mail

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An extraordinary meeting of Greater Hume Council will be held on Thursday night to hear a bid to have the council’s formal position on the Glenellen Solar Farm changed. Councillors Lea Parker, Doug Meyer and Jenny O’Neill are seeking to rescind the motion passed at last week’s meeting to “raise serious concerns with regard to the Glenellen Solar Farm in respect to traffic management”. If the rescission is successful, a notice of motion will be put forward to object to the Glenellen Solar Farm. At the November 18 meeting, an original motion by Cr O’Neill to object to the project was lost. A motion was then put forward by Cr Quinn that council raise concerns only about traffic and preferences for a voluntary planning agreement, which was successful, after an amendment by Cr Meyer to also raise concerns about agricultural land use was lost. Cr Parker and Cr Terry Weston were absent for the meeting. Cr Matt Hicks was not present for the vote as he had declared a non-pecuniary interest, as he does for all solar farm matters considered by council. The position on the Glenellen Solar Farm decided last week was the first time council had raised “serious concerns” over a solar farm, as opposed to objecting outright. Formal objections over a range of issues have been lodged for the Culcairn, Jindera and Walla solar farms. Council’s objections triggers the approval process going to the Independent Planning Commission, however, the proposals would have likely gone to the IPC regardless due to the level of community opposition. The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is accepting submission on the Glenellen Solar Farm until November 30. IN OTHER NEWS: The IPC was referred the Walla project in October and lists it as “in progress”, with the IPC meeting with the NSW DPIE on Friday for further details. A virtual public meeting about the Jindera project will also be held on Friday and the IPC is accepting written submissions until Friday, December 4.


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Polish firm presses ahead with 2-MW solar project | The Budapest Business Journal on the web

 Energy Today

 Friday, November 13, 2020, 16:30

Polish developer 01 Cyberaton SA has announced an agreement with the distribution arm of energy company Enea SA for a 2-MW (megawatt) solar park, reported energy portal Renewables Now.

As part of the agreement, the solar farm with a capacity of 1.99 MW, to be built in the village of Pturek in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, north-central Poland, needs to be connected to the grid within 14 months of the date of the deal.

01 Cyberaton has started the process of securing a building permit and construction of the solar farm is due to begin in the final quarter of 2021. The project is part of the companyʼs action plan for 2020-2022. 



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All of South Australia’s power comes from solar panels in world first for major jurisdiction

South Australia’s renewable energy boom has achieved a global milestone.

The state once known for not having enough power has become the first major jurisdiction in the world to be powered entirely by solar energy.

For just over an hour on Sunday, October 11, 100 per cent of energy demand was provided by solar panels alone.

“This is truly a phenomenon in the global energy landscape,” Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) chief executive Audrey Zibelman said.

Large-scale solar farms, like the ones operating at Tailem Bend and Port Augusta, provided the other 23 per cent.

Any excess power generated by gas and wind farms on that day was stored in batteries or exported to Victoria via the interconnector.

The two yellow shades mark the time on October 11 when all of SA’s power came from solar panels.(Supplied: OpenNEM)

Too much of a good thing?

Analysts say it is a significant milestone that will happen more regularly as the pace of solar growth continues.

Energy regulators say without careful management, grid stability could be at risk if there is more electricity going in than coming out.

If the interconnector is down, like it was for more than two weeks in February, that is when problems can occur.

AEMO is forecasting an additional 36,000 new solar rooftop systems will be installed in South Australia in the next 14 months.

That is on top of the 288,000 homes — about a third — already generating their own electricity.

Bungala solar power plant near Port Augusta in South Australia
The Bungala solar power plant near Port Augusta.(ABC News: Carl Saville)

Household uptake continues

Jackie Thomson has just had 20 panels fitted to the roof of her Adelaide home.

“I’d been thinking about it for a long time and my electricity bills were going through the roof,” she said.

A man with a beard and a woman with long hair look at mobile phones in front of a house
Adam Karroum from Adam Solar with Adelaide woman Jackie Thomson, who is having solar panels put on her roof.(ABC News)

She was not put off by new powers introduced last month allowing the electricity distributor SA Power Networks to switch off all new solar installations if too much solar was putting the system under pressure.

“I understood that it was actually about managing the grid more effectively and I wasn’t concerned about it, so it didn’t impact my timeline for making a decision,” she said.

Solar retailers say most people have not been put off by the changes.

“It didn’t stop the flow of enquiries, it was just more interesting conversations we had to have to educate people on those new regulations,” Adam Karroum from Adam Solar said.

The changes were introduced because AEMO was worried all that extra rooftop solar could play havoc with voltage levels and end up causing blackouts.

New inverters must have software that allows them to be controlled remotely.

A man holding a solar panel on a ladder next to a roof
Solar panels being installed on Jackie Thomson’s roof in Adelaide.(ABC News)

Switch-off power needed

AEMO suggests similar action is “required urgently in Victoria, and promptly in Queensland”.

SA Power Networks says any switch-off would only happen as a last resort and if grid stability was at risk.

“The system needs management,” company spokesman Paul Roberts said.

A man wearing a suit jacket speaks in front of an LED panel
Paul Roberts from SA Power Networks.(ABC News)

He says solar is still a great investment and the network is working hard to double solar capacity within five years.

“It’s an exciting future for South Australia and we have a whole number of things that we are putting in place to manage that,” he said.

That includes making it cheaper for people to use power during the day and encouraging people to switch on dishwashers, pool pumps and hot water systems in the middle of the day.

The next step is convincing more people to connect batteries to store cheap energy during the day.

“The grid needs to become increasingly like a set of lungs,” AEMO chief external affairs officer Tony Chappel said.

“During the day, the lungs would breathe in and excess energy can be stored and then in the evening when the sun’s gone down, that energy can be fed back.”

A white car
Electric cars are growing in popularity and require a large amount of power to recharge.(ABC News)

Plans to build a new interconnector with New South Wales will also help manage the growth of solar.

“South Australia could become a net exporter of energy,” Mr Roberts said.

“People are going to be looking at the opportunities that a new interconnector may create for solar farms to export to the NSW market as well as the Victorian market.”

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CE4G’s Goulburn community solar farm raises more than half a million dollars | Goulburn Post

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Community Energy for Goulburn (CE4G) directors were excited to raise more than half a million dollars – a quarter of the sum needed – for their proposed solar farm at their first investor information meeting at the Goulburn Workers’ Club on Wednesday. Five years of hard work have paid off since CE4G began. The solar farm will be the biggest community-owned one in NSW, and the first in Australia with battery backup. Built on 2.5 hectares off Bridge Street, it is expected to start operating next July. The farm will generate 1.8 megawatts (MW), and pump 1.2 MW into the grid – enough to power 450 homes. “It’s obvious that people are looking for safe ethical investment opportunities,” CE4G president Peter Fraser said. “With the closing of coal-fired power stations just around the corner, the supply of electricity will have to be met with renewables, and the solar farm will be well positioned to meet that demand.” “Last night is the culmination of a massive amount of work, which is why we’re so thrilled at the result,” vice-president Ed Suttle said. “We all entered the meeting hoping – but if we’d been asked at 6.30, will you settle for half a million? the answer would have been a huge grinning ‘Yes!’. Having said that, we still need to raise another $1.5 million. That was a stunning start, but there’s still a way to go.” CE4G will hold a webinar on Wednesday, October 28, and a public meeting on November 4. Registration for both is at www.goulburnsolarfarm.com.au. READ ALSO: More than 150 people attended Wednesday night’s event – the city’s first public meeting since COVID-19 began. Some people bought $400 worth of shares (the minimum share price, approximately the cost of a solar panel, fully wired-up), Mr Suttle said; more than one heavy investor bought $50,000 worth of shares. “That shows enormous confidence in the scheme from the community,” Mr Suttle said. “Those of us who have worked on this for four or five years are staggeringly proud that we can at last go to the community and say the thing is viable. It’s ‘investment-safe’; it’s going to happen – invest! …” Mr Suttle said that he and his wife were not alone in purchasing shares for their children and grand-children. Conservative cash flow estimates, Mr Suttle said, indicate a return on investment of between 4 to 7 per cent each year for the first decade. At the same time, enough money will be put into a sinking fund to raise $850,000 after 10 years to purchase new panels to increase the farm’s output if technologies change. “At the moment, it would appear – with all the normal disclaimers – to be a very lucrative investment,” Mr Suttle said. “We’ve now got the weight of responsibility to make it happen, and ensure that it’s profitable, so that everyone gets the dividends we’ve promised.” READ MORE: A co-op will run the project; each investor will have a single vote, regardless of how many shares they own. This, CE4G states, will ensure all investors – no matter what their investment – have an equal say in how the project is built and managed. Nearly all the shares will be owned by regional investors; that means profits will go back to them, and stay within the community, rather than going off to a major company, Mr Suttle explained. Up to 20 per cent of the profits can be put aside each year for charitable purposes, Mr Suttle said. CE4G has negotiated below-commercial rate level lease payments for the land, which increases the profitability. Shareholders can donate part or all of their dividend on a tax-deductible manner to a community fund run by Anglicare to help Goulburn residents who struggle to pay for electricity. “It really is a community effort,” Mr Suttle said. “It [brings in] money to those who can afford to buy shares, but it also benefits those who in their wildest dreams would never even think of buying a share in anything.” CE4G was founded in 2015 after members of the Goulburn Group attended a seminar about community energy in Canberra. At that forum, the then-Department of Environment and Heritage announced there was grant money available for local communities to conduct a feasibility study about the viability of a community-owned renewable energy farm. A senior manager from Divall’s Haulage was one of those present; he realised that his company owned a suitable site on derelict land. Within three weeks, the group submitted the application for the study; six months later, they received the grant; and a further six months later, the solar farm was deemed viable. A $2.1 million grant from the NSW government under the Regional Community Energy program allowed CE4G to purchase a battery that can store 400 MW. This will capture low-cost electricity in the middle of the day that can be sold into the grid at peak prices in the evening. Between now and February, Mr Suttle said, CE4G will finalise design work, including the details of the connection to the grid. Big machinery will be on site within a month; in March, racking will be dug into the ground, panels will be attached, wiring put in, batteries will arrive, and the solar farm should be ready to switch on in July. Opal O’Neill, president of the local Pejar Aboriginal Land Council, told Wednesday’s audience: “When you look back on helping create this amazing piece of work, you will feel a sure sense of pride because you will know you have helped Goulburn take an amazing leap into the world of the future with renewable clean energy. I know that there is nothing more meaningful to a community than making it greater for everyone.” From November 20, CE4G will open investments to wider NSW and the ACT. Mr Suttle said there was pent-up demand; people in Canberra, Bowral, Sydney, and Melbourne, even Perth and Queensland, wanted to invest. “But this is a community-owned solar farm,” Mr Suttle said. “We dearly hope that the vast majority of investment, if not all, comes from the immediate Goulburn region.” For more information, visit https://goulburnsolarfarm.com.au/ and https://www.ce4g.org.au/


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