Aquarians let the sunshine in
Nimbin can now claim to be the solar power capital of Australia with the completion of the Nimbin Community Solar Farm Project on the roofs of six community-owned buildings in the village.
The six sites will produce 45kW of solar power, which means, when combined with existing grid-interactive and stand-alone systems on domestic buildings, solar will produce up to 75% of Nimbin’s power.
The solar project was co-ordinated by the Nimbin Neighbourhood and Information Centre (NNIC), which was able to secure funding from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) as the project has created three long term jobs, 10 short-term/casual jobs, a traineeship and three work experience placements.
The idea for the project was conceived at a community sustainability forum in February 2009 where the community expressed the desire to be “energy neutral”. Natalie Meyer, who works at NNIC and who had co-ordinated a project to get domestic solar systems onto 55 houses in Nimbin, took the bull by the horns and ran with it.
“If it wasn’t for Natalie’s tenacity and her ability to overcome obstacles, this never would have happened,” NNIC chairperson Paul Le Bars said.
“And she was able to generate incredible community support for it,” Rainbow Power Company’s installation manager Paul O’Reilly said.
Initially the NNIC was looking at installing a 30kW system but, in order to be eligible for the state government’s generous (but now defunct) feed-in tariff scheme, the system needed to be less than 10kW. So the plan to install several systems around the town was hatched.
Natalie was able to co-ordinate between federal and state government bodies as well as Lismore City Council and the six community groups involved: Nimbin Bowling Club, Nimbin School of Arts (Town Hall), Nimbin Community School (HEMP Embassy), Nimbin Headers Sports Club, Blue Knob Hall and the NNIC itself.
“The fact that we have been able, as a community, to pull this project together in spite of numerous challenges is testament to the strength of the Nimbin community. When something is important enough, we can effectively unite and work towards a common goal. I don’t believe we could have got the project to where it is in many other communities,” Natalie said.
Another reason the project has come to fruition in Nimbin is that many of the buildings in town are actually community owned, rather than privately owned, which is a legacy of the Aquarius Festival and counter-culture movement.
Over $250,000 of infrastructure has been installed by the Rainbow Power Company, which will continue to maintain it. There were no up-front costs to the community organisations involved, although both the Headers and Blue Knob Hall required new roofs. Each of the community groups will now generate residual income from the electricity they feed into the grid, in a percentage split with NNIC.
Natalie (who was unable to be in the photo) said there were four policy changes in relation to solar during the life of the project and that the slashing and then capping of the feed-in tariff scheme by the NSW Government meant it was unlikely that any other community in NSW would be able to replicate what has happened in Nimbin.
“Until such time as there is a realistic value placed on energy, projects such as these will likely be commercially unviable and will not be able to attract investment – our project was only able to proceed because it was funded by the Commonwealth Government and we are not aiming to replace our infrastructure costs. Clearly this would not be a viable proposition at a commercial level in the current state of play.”
There will be an official launch of the solar farm on March 31 at the Nimbin Bowling Club and eventually you will be able to see how much electricity is being produced at each of the sites in real time via the NNIC website at www.nnic.org.au.