The future is solar
  • Friday 29 August 2014
Sunshine Coast solar farm

Mayor Mark Jamieson has provided an update on Council’s exciting proposal to build a solar farm at Valdora which will save ratepayers many millions of dollars on electricity.

 “This project will take the Sunshine Coast closer to becoming Australia’s most sustainable region,” Mayor Jamieson said.

“I’m proud Council has taken this smart, sensible and sustainable solution.

“Faced with a decision to take an opportunity to reduce electricity costs for the next 30 plus years and achieve a great environmental outcome, or continue to pay ever escalating electricity costs – Council chose solar power and the savings it will bring.

“Council is currently in commercial negotiations to build the project which will save council, and consequently ratepayers many millions of dollar over the life of the project.

“I have released a detailed account of how the organisation has reached this position to dispel some misconceptions and inaccuracies about the project (see attachment).

“Council’s decision to approve it has been based on comprehensive, internal and external examinations of the proposal, which has resulted in an updated business case which differs greatly from the original (which has been cited to criticise the project).

“It’s also important to note the overall cost of $4.156 million (including the $2.3m to cover the substantial cost to develop the project plan as well as the intellectual property, $1.5 m for the land, the $300,000 option and rent payments totalling $56,000) has been factored into the business case which shows council and therefore ratepayers will be way ahead – the savings will be many millions of dollars.

“The location of the land was critical and can’t be over-emphasised.  A substantial investigation revealed this plot had all the necessary characteristics to build a utility scale solar farm, including the fact it was located on a 33kv Energex line.

“Across the region there are very few land parcels that meet the criteria. This clearly placed the value of the land – as a potential site for a solar farm - much higher than other rural parcels of land, to which some people have tried to compare it. As the old real estate saying goes: location is everything.

“This is a decision our grand kids will thank us for; it’s a financially responsible, and environmentally sustainable.”

Sunshine Coast Council’s solar farm – green power, sustainable future

There’s been a lot of talk about Council’s exciting proposal to build a solar farm at Valdora which will save many millions of dollars on electricity and take us closer to becoming Australia’s most sustainable region. Let me show you how we got there.

In June 2011 Council approved a utility scale solar farm with appropriate conditions.
Following that planning approval, Council was approached to become a customer of the proposed solar farm - but the cost was far too high. But Council liked the idea of “green power” and further analysis showed if it owned the project the organisation could save millions of dollars on electricity. The reason? Council could cut out the middle man and eliminate the biggest risk – the need for a customer. Council could be its own customer.

The findings were presented to Council in January 2013 – and more information was requested. This additional material and a detailed business case were presented to Council in April 2013 – they showed significant savings over the life of the project. Council started an expression of interest for the construction of a solar farm, and entered into an option on the project and property. This option cost Council $300,000 along with monthly rental payments of $8000 per month. The option gave Council the legal right to purchase the parcel of land for a period until February 2014 at a cost of $1.5 million. This amount was set under an existing option to purchase the land.

The location of the land was critical and can’t be over-emphasised.  A substantial investigation revealed this plot had all the necessary characteristics to build a utility scale solar farm, including the fact it was located on a 33kv Energex line. Across the region there are very few land parcels that meet the criteria. This clearly placed the value of the land – as a potential site for a solar farm - much higher than other rural parcels of land, to which some people have tried to compare it. As the old real estate saying goes: location is everything.

Despite having a comprehensive report and business case, and the option on one of the few suitable blocks in the region, council took additional measures to ensure it was making the right decision.

Council engaged two firms to undertake an independent assessment of the business case. Armed with these two reports, a study undertaken by Energex, and taking into consideration potential future legislative changes - the business case was substantially amended – it differs greatly from the original which has been cited to criticise the project. The amended business case delivers a much better result for council and the community.

In parallel with this work the expression of interest process was completed. A large number of responses were received from local, national and international companies. Most importantly Council now had large volumes of reliable information to finalise the business case.

This revised business case was presented to Council in February 2014 and Council made the decision to pay $2.3 million which was the substantial cost to develop the project plan as well as the intellectual property.

It’s important to note that overall cost of $4.156 million (including the $2.3m, land for $1.5m, $300,000 option and rent payments totalling $56,000) has been factored into the business case which shows council and therefore ratepayers will be way ahead – the savings will be many millions of dollars.

There are some contractual matters which prevent me going into more depth in some areas - but I hope this provides a good insight into why council has gone solar.

Ultimately, Council faced a decision; take an opportunity to reduce electricity costs for the next 30 plus years and achieve a great environmental outcome or continue to pay ever escalating electricity costs. Like many residents council chose solar power and the savings it will bring.