I regularly read that the price of renewable electricity is dropping. So, why am I paying an additional five cents a kilowatt hour to buy green electricity?  And what does ‘green’ really mean?  

This story is about my efforts to understand what is going on. 

Electricity can be generated in many ways. By burning coal or gas to create steam that turns turbines that generate electricity; by falling or moving water, like rivers or ocean waves, that turn turbines that generate electricity; by wind that turns turbines; or in the case of solar, by sunlight that agitates the cells in a solar panel to create an electrical current.  Of these types of generation, electricity from burning coal or gas is definitely not renewable electricity. 

So, how can I be certain I only use renewable electricity in my home? In short, it’s complicated. Electricity moves around through wires on poles, towers and sometimes underground. There are coal power stations, solar panels and wind turbines all generating electricity, as well as some other systems. The electricity from each of these generators flows into the same set of wires, at which point it is simply electricity and how it was generated can no longer be identified. 

It turns out that the way we make sure we get renewable electricity is through, what I call, an administrative arrangement (yes really).  Each year, the federal government sets a target that tells us the percentage of Australia’s total electricity that must come from renewable sources.  For 2021, the target is 33,000,000 MWh, or about 18.5%.  Retailers buy this electricity, then resell it to consumers.  Needless to say, the retailers want to buy the cheapest electricity they can, and they are free to do this as long as they meet the required percentage of renewable electricity each year and have special certificates to show they have done so. 

Happily, the actual percentage of renewable electricity purchased last year was more than the government mandated. This occurred because, at various times, renewable electricity was cheaper for the retailers to buy than non-renewable electricity.  

Let’s say I use 4,000 kWh of electricity per year and I want it all to be renewable.  I assume that 18.5% of it is renewable because of the government target, and maybe more, but to be absolutely certain all of it is renewable I need my retailer to buy additional special certificates, beyond the 18.5% that they are required to buy. Unfortunately it costs me an extra $0.05/kWh for the administrative system that manages and audits this process but at least I know all my electricity is ‘green’. For 4,000 kWh of electricity per year, the additional cost to make sure it is all renewable would be $200, which is a lot.  As more of our energy is renewable, however, I’m hoping this cost goes down.  

The Newstead solar field is a big and long term project with many moving parts. We know that there are many questions, and lots to discuss about the development of construction and partnerships, and that these things are often best explained through discussing in-person. While we can't currently hold events or community gatherings, we remain committed to keeping our residents in the loop and hearing from our community.

The RN committee has organised a number of street chats - sessions on the streets of Newstead to be available to talk to anyone interested in this project, in a fun and comfortable setting. We'll be setting up shop outside the Newstead IGA at the following times:

  • Saturday October 23rd, 10am-12pm
  • Saturday November 27th, 10am-12pm

Come along with your questions, comments and ideas, or, just come for a chat with some of our wonderful committee members!

Solar farms are becoming common in Australia. They operate in a similar way to household rooftop, only on a large scale with different ownership arrangements. It is appropriate to call them 'farms' because they harvest energy on a large scale and potentially with better efficiency than a domestic rooftop system. For example, a 2.5MW solar plant using single-axis tracking panels would generate about 5,000 MWh of pollution-free electricity per year (compared to about  3,660 MWh expected for fixed panels).  

The Australian Energy Regulator figures gives the Victorian average annual kwh consumption as 6411kWh so the output of our 2.5MWNewstead solar farm would supply approximately 1,080 households. 

To generate an equivalent amount of electricity, Victoria's brown-coal fired power station Yallourn would emit 6,650 tonnes of CO2 (at 1.33 tonnes CO2 per Mwh). The slightly more efficient Loy Yang power stations A and B would emit 5,750 tonnes of CO2. Solar farms emit zero greenhouse gases to generate electricity. 

Most solar farms are operated as commercial entities who sell power into the grid for a return on investment. Until recently their output was restricted to daylight hours but with the development of grid-scale batteries, solar farms also are now able to move some of their output to after-dark demand such as evening cooking/lighting/heating. 

Typically an owner/operator would lease the land for a fixed period, for example 20 or 30 years, with the option of extending/terminating the lease at the end. Often a large proportion of the output is sold through a mechanism of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to large consumers such as companies or government which gives some certainty for investors. Solar farms are similar to domestic rooftop systems in that they connect to the grid, but they connect to the high-voltage lines  such as 22kv or 66 kv (22,000 or 66,000 volts) to handle the greater power. Beyond the boundaries of the solar farm, Powercor (the business responsible for the poles and wires) manages and regulates the flow of power supplied by the farm, maintaining standards of voltage and frequency. 

Solar farms have a low profile (compared to wind farms) and with screening can be entirely out of the sight of public gaze. They have no moving parts, except for when the panels can track the sun to get more energy, and low levels of noise. The application process involves many studies and reports covering planning issues around land use. 

All of these factors made solar the logical choice to bring renewable energy to the Newstead community.

At the beginning of this project, RN entered into an agreement with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning about how and when RN would expend a Victorian Government $1 million grant. 

This required us to meet milestones by allotted dates to receive funding in stages. 

Due to some delays and changed circumstances as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, as well as varied requirements, this agreement has needed to be changed to fit the new project trajectory. 

DELWP acknowledged the hurdles face by RN and has agreed to support us in those changes and has offered:  

  • More time to meet the changed requirements of the project 
  • A restructured funding agreement to better account for the base costs regardless of the farm size 
  • Practical support in the form of consultancy work to aid in the technical side of the project. 

This agreement includes a construction completion date of October 2022, when construction will be finished and the farm will be ready to open. 

This updated agreement is now being finalised and will enable the project to continue through the next steps 

While we’ve been quiet for some time on our website, we’ve been busy elsewhere getting all of the bits together to get our solar field online.

Here’s a quick update on developments:

We have chosen our site and applied for a planning permit to build a small-scale solar farm there. After chatting with site neighbours, we sought and gained a planning permit for a scaled-down (from 10MW) 5MW farm. 

We have contracted studies necessary for approval to send our power through Powercor’s power lines. These include:

  • a steady state study – to assess the existing state of the power distribution and how the lines work in the area specific to Newstead
  • a dynamic modelling study – to assess how the power lines would handle any contingencies once our farm is connected. 

We operated a Request for Quote process to secure partners to build, own and operate the farm and to sell the electricity it generates. 

We settled on a company called Flow Power to take charge of finance, construction and retail. Watch this space for more details. 

We’re now working with Flow Power to come up with a good, low-cost electricity pricing structure for Newstead residents and customers of our proposed solar farm.  It’s likely this will be finalised in the first quarter of next year. 

It might seem odd that we’re working out pricing before building the farm. However Flow Power, who would build the farm and retail the energy, needs to know costs and Renewable Newstead needs to be satisfied that pricing for Newstead is the best possible.

Many milestones remain but with excellent project partners, a site, and continued support by the Victorian Government, we are well on our way to project development!

Please click through the link below to join the conversation and come hang out with us.

Newstead 2021 Inc is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Renewable Newstead Community Update
Time: Aug 5, 2021 07:30 PM Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83193784225

Meeting ID: 831 9378 4225
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Renewable Newstead Committee standing on the river bank

Renewable Newstead is so pleased to invite you all to a major update on our small-scale solar farm plans on Thursday August 5th.

This will be in an online forum at 7.30-9.30pm.
A link for the online meeting will be posted on this website and on social media prior to the event.

Over the past 18 months, we have made great steps and wish to update and inform the people of Newstead (Victoria) and surrounds about that progress.

You will:
- get an update on what's happening with the project
- meet our prospective solar farm builder/operator
- hear about proposed electricity pricing
- have an opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of this project

So if you're from Newstead, Green Gully, Welshmans Reef, Sandon and Muckleford South or the surrounding areas of Strangways, Clydesdale, Joyces Creek or Yandoit, or if you're just an intersted party, consider yourself invited. Come along for a great morning of conversations and get to know what our solar future might look like. 

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