Development approval has been granted by the Rural City of Wangaratta for the construction of a 20MW solar farm, enough to power 5,000 homes.

Located alongside the North Wangaratta Industrial Estate, the $40 million project will come on stream at the end of 2017.

The solar farm will provide energy security in the area on days when the demand for electricity exceeds the available supply. For businesses operating in the area, this means temporary shutdowns which are costly and disruptive.

As a result of this project, developer Countrywide Energy has been approached by a number of councils to evaluate opportunities to replicate the Wangaratta model in their municipality or to look at ways in which renewable energy can enhance economic development and social well-being.

Countrywide Energy director Geoff Drucker says, “Wangaratta Solar Farm has been a collaborative project bringing together the local council and neighbours to deliver an outcome that will help sustain jobs in local industries, create new jobs and make Wangaratta an attractive destination for business relocation.

“There is an opportunity for businesses operating in the North Wangaratta Industrial Estate to take advantage of embedded energy from the solar farm which means they can be directly supplied with clean energy outside the established electricity grid.”

Drucker told EcoGeneration the plant will probably operate sales via a mix of a power purchase agreement and merchant model.

A “very marge” manufacturer adjacent to the plant site is on the market, he said, and Countrywide Energy won’t be able to secure supply to that business for the time being.

He said there is the opportunity for off-takes for business in the North Wangaratta Industrial Estate.

The remaining energy generated will augment the grid.

“Countrywide Energy’s goal is to prospect renewable energy opportunities where energy supply is unreliable, cannot be expanded or of poor quality. Coupling these elements with the potential for business development, local economies have a recipe for attracting new businesses that have an appetite for clean energy and long-term competitive and predictable energy pricing,” he said.