A flotilla of solar farms headed for NSW

Solar farm project offers communities a chance to take ownership

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The Manilla community celebrating the solar farm. The community have invested in the Providence project, ensuring a portion of the profits return to Manilla. Photo: Providence Asset Group.

The Manilla community celebrating the solar farm. The community have invested in the Providence project, ensuring a portion of the profits return to Manilla. Photo: Providence Asset Group.

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Providence Asset Group plans to construct at least 28 new solar farms.

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A flotilla of solar farms - is how the Providence Asset Group describe their plan to construct 28 community-based solar farms and renewable energy storage facilities across NSW.

The project is set to be a $500 million investment and will create up to 750 jobs during the construction phase, as well as on-going roles in the management of the storage facilities.

It will also offer communities cheaper energy rates and the opportunity to invest in the project.

Providence's head of strategy Matthew Muller said focusing on multiple, smaller-scale farms worked for them because it de-risked their program, but it also worked well for regional NSW because it allowed dozens of small towns to share in the investment.

"The farms will help local jobs and investment, as well as local grid stability," he said.

Providence's chief technology officer Llewellyn Owens said by working on this scale, they were able to make sure the farms were where the communities wanted them.

"We're not creating a massive solar farm that takes over a lot of farmland, we're talking a couple of paddocks, 15 odd hectares," Mr Owens said.

"We can often speak to the farmers and say where would you like it, which are your paddocks which are not as productive."

Communities take ownership

An example of how Providence will work with communities, is the partnership they've formed with the Manilla community in the Tamworth region.

Non-for-profit community group, Manilla Community Renewable Energy Inc were determined to attract renewable energy to their region and have invested in the Providence project.

Providence's head of strategy Matthew Muller said while they expected not all communities would opt for part ownership, all would benefit from reduced electricity rates.

Providence currently has five development applications submitted for solar farms at Manilla, Finley, Guyra, Gunnedah and Tamworth.

Tamworth Regional Council mayor Col Murray said the model was an innovative way to offer alternative energy projects which are in reach of smaller communities and don't rely on massive energy line upgrades.

"It will offer more predictability about energy costs into the future, which will mean a lot in smaller regional areas," Mr Murray said.

"In the last five years or so it might even be considered almost out of control in the way energy costs have risen."

He said the Manilla community had been rewarded in spades for their commitment to securing a renewable energy project.

"To pick up a delivery partner like Providence is a testament to their community spirit," Mr Murray said.

"This is a classic example of how good citizens can deliver really good outcomes for their community just through sheer persistence and belief in their project."

"Game-changing" hybrid storage technology

It's the technology involved with the storage of renewable energy that has been described as the "game-changing" element.

Hybrid storage technology, which includes hydrogen storage as well as the traditional Li-ion batteries, will be attached to each project.

Mr Owens said the inclusion of hydrogen storage was exciting because they were confident that hydrogen would be the fuel of the future.

"It unlocks ways to substitute hydrogen for diesel in the future for farming applications," Mr Owens said.

"It means local farmers, local communities can produce their own diesel equivalent, they don't have to be reliant on fuel from overseas, they can make it there."

Mr Muller agreed hydrogen had enormous potential citing a recent $2 billion deal between US-owned General Motors and electricity vehicle start up, Nikola, who are now working on freight vehicles.

Providence hopes all 28 solar farms can be completed by mid-2022 and work on the storage facilities will commence shortly after that.

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