Singleton Solar Farm to be resurrected as a community solar project after 15 years of dormancy

A 407kW solar farm first built by the NSW government more than 15 years ago is set to be switched back on.

The Singleton Solar Farm in NSW’s Hunter Valley was originally constructed in 1998/99 as part of the 2000 Olympics, along with the 70kW Sydney Superdome array, and at the time was the biggest of its kind in Australia (and remained so until around 2005) and the entire Southern Hemisphere (until about 2002).

In June this year, however, state-owned power distributor Ausgrid sold the ageing solar asset to family-owned company XYZ Solar, who have undertaken a refurbishment, and will officially switch back on around 250kW of the farm’s PV capacity next weekend.

XYZ Solar’s operations manager – and a former Hunter Valley power station apprentice – Andrew Thaler, says Singleton’s advanced size, for its time, was overclouded by concerns over grid integration and variability – things that were thereafter found to be a non-issue.

“There were some theories at the time amongst energy people that a sudden cloud cover over a 400kW PV array could lead to voltage control issues and that local Zone substations might trip out,” Thaler said in an email.

Thaler, who also has plans to construct a community-funded solar farm on his land in Nimmitabel in Southern NSW, has refurbished the nearly 17-year old infrastructure, and will throw a party next weekend for the switching back on of the Singleton Solar Farm.

In June, he revealed his hopes to introduce community participation to expand the existing 2.75 hectare site (about the size of five football fields), by building a community farm adjacent to the existing installation, with the aim of extending the project to 5MW – the highest it can supply on the existing high voltage power lines.

“There is immeasurable potential for solar it just needs skill, tenacity and the will of the people in the region to become a reality,” he told the Singleton Argus.

“It’s a big challenge and a discussion that needs to take place to change people’s perception on solar.”

Today, Thaler says the transition to renewables continues “irrespective” of federal government ideology.

“The NSW government abandoned the farm, no longer wanting to invest in its upkeep and sold it off,” he said – although Thaler is full of praise of the NSW government back in 1998 for taking the bold step of investing in the solar farm in the first place.

“Maybe the current and future NSW governments can be politely reminded of the benefits that flow from some level of public participation in a strong renewables sector,” he said.

“I privately believe in renewable energy and spent my private money on purchasing it, fixing it and now expanding it.”

Thaler says he has, so far, done enough work at the solar farm to switch on at least 250kW of PV. But more money is needed to buy more solar panels and replace the approx 230kW of dead inverters on both Singleton and the Superdome.

“The Local council support the expansion of (Singleton Solar Farm) and have declared so publicly. …I plan to reinvest most of the SSF revenue into expanding it and open it up to public participation/ investment via ‘community energy.”

Thaler also notes that the farm was one of the earliest renewable systems approved under the Green Power schemes – which was, ironically, installed and operated successfully in one of the largest coal mining areas in the world – and as such provides an important message that the schemes are long term, sustainable and worthwhile.

“(It) creates LGC’s (Large-scale Generation Certificates) which are an important part of our current electrical generation industrial system and all sides of govt have largely indicated that they are obliged to retain at least this function (LGC creation) if not the current 41GWh target. Public opinion is certainly & solidly centred around keeping the 41GW target if not increasing it,” Thaler said.

Top image: Singleton Solar Farm, via @SingletonSolar on Twitter

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