Frequently asked questions

What is Renewable Newstead?

Renewable Newstead aims to generate solar power to supply the local community by 2022.

Since 2015 the RN team have been working on realising an innovative model for a community solar farm that generates as much clean electricity as Newstead consumes each year (2 – 3 MW).

You can view the report and business model here.

This project is being developed and managed by volunteers of Newstead 2021 Inc.

What is the Project?

Renewable Newstead aims to generate solar power to supply the local community by 2022.

A planning application to build a small-scale solar farm near Newstead has been through a public
submission process and as a result of some submissions has been revised to result in a lesser building
footprint and lower output for the project.

Where will the solar farm be?

The proposed site is the corner of Captains Gully Rd and Clarke Lane, 3km west of Newstead.

Why was this site selected?

RN issued a call for expressions of interest in April 2019 from local landholders keen to lease land for the solar farm.

This site was selected for a solar energy facility for a range of factors, including proximity to the grid, flat land, relatively free of native vegetation and with limited nearby dwellings.

Solar facilities in Victoria are mostly located on Farm Zone land and the agricultural value of the land is taken in to consideration. Use of agricultural land for the purposes of a renewable energy facility is not inconsistent with planning policy and is generally agreed in Victorian planning decisions to be an appropriate land use.

The subject land, whilst able to be used for agricultural purposes, is not considered ‘high value’ agricultural land within the state of
Victoria. The removal of this 10 ha results in a reasonable reduction in agricultural land and will not impact on the ongoing viability of surrounding land. The project brings other benefits to the community.

The land can continue to be grazed when the solar farm is constructed and operating.

The land owner has committed to hosting the solar farm via a letter of intent.

Where does the project stand now?

Renewable Newstead’s application for a planning permit to build a small-scale solar farm to supply our community with renewable energy closed for formal comment and objection on 23 September 2020.

In response to key factors including feedback on our planning application, Renewable Newstead has refined its plan for a small scale solar farm on Newstead’s outskirts.

Our refined plan will reduce the farm’s energy producing capacity to 5MW, down from 9MW and means the area covered by solar PV arrays and access rows will reduce by about seven hectares, down from 16.2 to 9.3 hectares.

Three factors have influenced RN’s decision to refine its plan.

  • Response from our community (two objections and one comment)
  • Response from referral authorities including the CFA.
  • Feedback from the energy industry around current connection issues which indicates that for our ambitions (to supply Newstead or at least all of the 3462 postcode with renewable energy) 5MW is the optimal size.

View the submitted amended plan for a 5MW solar farm here.

How has the project changed from that which went on public exhibition?

The project footprint has been altered from a 10Mw layout to a revised output of 6MW with the inverter output of 5MW.

The northern portion of the solar array has been removed to reduce the visual impact from dwelling located a 1km further west.

The southern part of the solar array has been reduced in the eastern portion to attempt to address a submission from a neighbour.

The array has then been moved further north away from the gas easement located in the south western corner.

Another consideration that has influenced the change is the reality of the cost and logistics of connection into the electricity network.

How does the project respond to fire risk?

The subject land is not within a Bushfire Management Overlay but is designated as Bushfire Prone.

The original and revised layout have been designed in accordance with the CFA Design Guidelines for Renewable Energy Facilities.

A statutory referral is not triggered however the CFA were notified of the original application and they provided comments on the application. These comments and the project design are explained in What are the key design elements of the project that address the CFA requirements?

What are the key design elements of the project that address the CFA requirements?

6m separation between banks
The banks of solar arrays have a 6m separation to allow for emergency access. It has been confirmed with the CFA that the 6m is to be between banks as opposed to each row and that there is no minimum or maximum number of rows of solar panels that constitute “a bank”.

The project complies with the CFA requirement in relation to the 6m separation. The banks of solar panels have been designed so that suitable access can be achieved for access and fire-fighting purposes which is the intent of the provision.

Access and egress
There is a 10m perimeter fire break with a 4m access track provided around the perimeter of the project consistent with the Guidelines. There are access gates at the entry to the project and the existing farm access gate located in the north west corner of the site that will also be used for emergency access. A suitable emergency gate will be provided in the northern security fence.

Fire Protection
The CFA submission requires a range of fire protection measures to be provided for the facility including at least one static fire water storage tank of not less than 45,000 litres effective capacity. The static water supply must be provided with a hard suction point that meets the CFA specifications.

What are the next steps?

Planning Application: Decision will not be made before 23 September 2020.

Project Partners: September 2020 RN will call for expressions of interest from companies keen to build and operate the generator and retail the electricity it produces.

Construction: Within 12 months of approved planning application – taking up to 9 months.

Operation and Retail: By project partners after construction is complete.

What happens when the sun doesn’t shine? Will Newstead still have electricity?

The model is grid-connected, maximizing commercial viability and back up security and makes more energy available at no extra cost. The grid is socially important supplying services to all but is especially important for the socially vulnerable who may not be able to afford to opt out.

Do locals need to invest in the solar farm?

The model for the Newstead Community Solar Farm does not require community investment.

It allows for a commercial entity to build and operate the solar farm.

The model will deliver community benefit, not through capital returns to those who can afford to invest, but through lower power prices for all.

What happens if not enough locals sign up to buy the electricity from the solar farm?

Under a trial distribution tariff (for using the poles & wires in the electricity grid) offered by Powercor, the solar farm’s electricity retailer needs to sign up at least half the residential premises in the 3462 postcode to be customers and buy electricity from the Newstead solar farm in the first 12 months of operation. If more than half do so, then the tariff will continue. If this doesn’t happen and, say, we get 25 per cent, then it will be up to the retailer to decide what to do. It could sell more power from our farm into other areas. We at RN think the electricity prices will be competitive enough to attract enough customers to easily meet Powercor’s requirements.

What about storing power in batteries. Will Newstead do that?

At this point, battery storage is not expected on the site.

What is the electricity grid?

The electricity grid is a term typically used to describe the three main players involved in the supply of electricity; generators (wind, sun, gas, coal), distributors or transmitters (poles and wires), and retailers (buy wholesale electricity and then sell it to us).

How do I sign up to the Renewable Newstead Solar Farm?

When operational, the solar farm will have a retailer that customers will sign up to.

How will Newstead households be affected by this project?

Newstead business and households will have the choice to purchase renewable energy from the Newstead Solar Farm by simply switching to the eventual power retailer partner.

How can I get involved?

Monthly meetings are open to the community. Contact RN here.

But I’m happy with my current supply. Why would I bother to switch?

Sign-up is optional.

Under a trial distribution tariff (for using the poles & wires in the electricity grid) offered by Powercor, the solar farm’s electricity retailer needs to sign up at least half the residential premises in the 3462 postcode to be customers and buy electricity from the Newstead solar farm in the first 12 months of operation. If more than half do so, then the tariff will continue. If this doesn’t happen and, say, we get 25 per cent, then it will be up to the retailer to decide what to do. It could sell more power from our farm into other areas. We at RN think the electricity prices will be competitive enough to attract enough customers to easily meet Powercor’s requirements.

How will Newstead businesses be affected?

Newstead business and households will have the choice to purchase renewable energy from the Newstead Solar Farm by simply switching to the eventual power retailer partner.

I’m planning to install solar on my roof soon. Should I wait to see RN’s proposal before I take action?

The model ensures everyone can participate and benefit equally, regardless of whether their rooftop is suitable for solar or not.

Got further questions?

Click here to email your question/s to Renewable Newstead or call Gen Barlow at Renewable Newstead on 0427 762633.

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