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Newcastle solar farm to reduce council electricity bill

Newcastle City Council has secured a $6.5 million loan from Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to help build the region’s biggest solar farm.

The 5MW installation west of the city at the Summerhill Waste Management Centre will significantly reduce Council’s annual $4 million electricity bill, after it doubled in the past two years.

The solar facility — construction on which is expected to begin in June — will save the city around $9 million over its 30-year life after construction and operational costs are factored in.

The installation’s 14,500 panels will be built by international property and infrastructure group Lendlease, with most of the finance lent through the CEFC’s Local Government Finance Program, which offers councils flexible and competitive fixed rate, long-term finance.

“I’d like to thank the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for its incredible support of the City of Newcastle’s sustainability charter,” Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

“The solar farm will produce enough energy to run the equivalent of 1,300 households, which promises significant environmental returns for ratepayers and millions of dollars in savings on electricity costs.

“We are building sustainability into everything we do after reiterating our commitment last year to generate 30 per cent of our electricity needs from low-carbon sources and cut overall electricity usage by 30 per cent by 2020.

“Increasing our renewable energy capability and finding more energy-efficient solutions is an integral part of our long-term vision to become a smart, liveable and sustainable city.”

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said: “We are delighted to work with Newcastle City Council on this landmark project, and to see its exciting transition to a sustainable city of the future.

“Councils across Australia administer a vast network of streetlights, community centres, libraries, sport and recreation facilities and other public access buildings. Newcastle is leading the way in financing a solar farm through the CEFC to help it manage the energy costs of these facilities.

“We encourage other councils to also invest in clean energy, which can free up council finance for other community-enhancing projects while locking in longstanding environmental and economic benefits for their communities.”

Council received development approval for the $8 million project from the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) last month, and preliminary works are now underway at Summerhill.

Lendlease is teaming up with renewable energy specialists Energy Made Clean (EMC) to design and build the facility.

It will cover an area of around five football fields between Summerhill’s entry road and construction-waste area, on a capped landfill site that was once part of the Wallsend Borehole Colliery.

The winning tender to build the farm was selected following an expression of interest process that attracted 18 submissions from around the world.

Electricity generated will flow into the nearby Ausgrid substation to offset electricity used at Council facilities across the local government area.

The solar farm builds on one of Australia’s most advanced renewable energy setups at a waste facility — with a 2.2megawatt landfill gas generator and a small wind turbine already located at Summerhill — and paves the way for future battery storage and electric garbage trucks.

Newcastle City Council recently joined the Cities Power Partnership, a Climate Council program in which cities and towns pledge key actions to reduce their climate impact.

Summerhill’s solar farm and eight other solar installations already installed – on the rooftops of Newcastle City Council buildings including an art gallery, museum, works depot and libraries – are part of actions endorsed.

Others include promoting more sustainable ways to travel, by providing cycling infrastructure and electric-vehicle chargers, and installing energy-efficient LED lighting.

The Newcastle project reflects the CEFC’s goal to invest $1 billion over 10 years to accelerate clean energy and energy efficient technology solutions in cities and the built environment, through its Sustainable Cities Investment Program

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