The establishment of small to mid-scale solar arrays on farmland throughout Australia represents multiple opportunities to re-shape how and where we all source our energy. To date the supply of renewables into the National Energy Market has been largely bookended at one end by large scale arrays quickly establishing along the grid, and at the other end by the Australian home owner’s appetite for roof top PV. Somewhere between these two extremes, along our long stringy grid, there surely is a sweet spot of opportunity for communities, regional manufacturers, local government and people locked out of the roof top solar market?
Mid scale solar arrays require very little land. Replicated, they will become very cost efficient to establish and will provide muscle, flexibility and security in our transition to a decentralised renewable energy market. For regional Australia midscale solar provides lower entry points for local investment, opportunities for local power purchase agreements and power offtakes, and the ensuing attraction of midscale industry and employment.
The Haystacks Solar Garden which will be built on our farm at Grong Grong in South Western NSW, has a very small footprint in terms of mixed grazing and cropping. Its 1-megawatt will occupy just three to four hectares of land, but generate enough electricity to supply the daytime energy needs of up to 300 homes. Its smaller scale also means that it can be connected to the main grid via the distribution network; the everyday poles and wires we see in our neighbourhoods and along our main roads.
The concept of a solar garden is new in Australia, and is being developed by Pingala, a citizen led co-operative focused on developing people-centred and socially just energy solutions. At its core the concept is very simple and based along the lines of a community garden, in that cooperative members have the opportunity to purchase plots (panels) in the solar garden and have the energy that is generated from the plot credited to their power bill. It is ideal for people in rental accommodation, apartments or homes that are not suitable for rooftop solar.
As farmers we think constantly about climate change, what practice changes we can make to help mitigate it, what impact it is having on the land, water and life we have in our care, what it means for how we grow food, what the cost of it will be for our environment, for our kids. It is our clear and present danger. For us, to host a solar garden that generates clean renewable energy alongside our crops and animals makes complete sense.