Sunshine Coast Council moves close to building Australia’s largest solar farm

The development of Australia’s first local government-owned utility-scale solar farm is one step closer to being realised, after the lodgement of a updated development application this week.

Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Council has lodged a second Material Change of Use application that seeks to transform 24 hectares of a former sugar plantation near Coolum into a 15MW solar farm.

As reported in July last year, the Valdora Solar Farm – originally proposed at 10MW – would be one of Australia’s largest, generating enough power to meet at least half the council’s electricity needs for the next 30 years, and slashing energy costs.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson argues that every Sunshine Coast ratepayer stands to benefit from the certainty the project provided.

“This project will see us proactively take control of our electricity supply while reducing our carbon emissions from electricity consumption to zero, contributing to Council’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2020,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

“We will be the first council to build a solar farm at utility scale in Australia and our residents can be very proud of the impact this will have as we strive to become Australia’s most sustainable region.”

The solar farm is part of the Sunshine Coast Council’s Energy Transition Plan, which specifies the facilitation of large-scale clean energy production and solar power stations as a key action.

In July this year, the Council made a submission to the Renewable Energy Target Review, arguing that removing the RET would likely threaten early large-scale solar projects, such as its own, that would ultimately deliver savings to councils and communities without the need for assistance.

“By maintaining the RET and remaining committed to the program, scope exists for a significant roll out of utility-scale solar by local governments across Australia,” the Sunshine Coast Council’s submission said.

“By doing so, we expect to reach a point where the solar efficiencies delivered allow for projects that are viable in the commercial arena, allowing the more widespread deployment of solar commercially at a cost lower than the current electricity price and without the need for external assistance.

“This scenario would see renewables deliver a real cost saving to all Australians as this would naturally reduce electricity pricing.”

Sunshine Coast residents are already onto this idea, having installed a combined total of 95MW of PV on domestic and commercial rooftops – 15MW of which was installed over the past 12 months alone.

The Valdora land earmarked for the solar farm is already zoned for a renewable energy facility, but the current MCU takes into account significant changes in the solar industry and includes much greater detail.

Mayor Jamieson said the new development application benefited from a body of work completed since 2013, including an Energex feasibility study which indicated grid connection could occur and that the facility’s generating capacity could be increased to 15MW.

Top image via LPE

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Giles Parkinson