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Solar for Renters — Australian Solar Banks

One third of Australians live in rental accommodation or apartment blocks. In these circumstances, they have very little chance for accessing rooftop solar. They are locked into high electricity prices as a result. As part of its plan to win government, the Australian Labour Party (the party of unions, similar to Democrats) is proposing to invest$100 million to support the creation of 85 solar banks, which Labour says could allow more than 25,000 households to share in the benefits of solar power through a cooperative ownership model.”

According to the ALP’s Powering Australia Plan, there are two possible models:

“The community owned model provides an incentive for apartment dwellers, renters, and small businesses to invest in an upfront solar bank to gain electricity savings over time without requiring a suitable rooftop.

“Social benefit model provides charities and low income households with access to a solar bank lease model in order to lower their energy bills by paying for their solar plots over time, without the initial capital cost In exchange for their owned/leased solar shares participants receive discounts.”

These solar banks (previously called solar gardens) are most likely to be built in regional areas where there is space for medium-size solar arrays. However, they do not have to be built near urban or suburban participants to share in a solar bank.

A total investment of $100 million from the federal government over four years will support around 25,000 households’ participation in a solar banks scheme. This would fund up to 50% of the capital costs of each solar bank (a Commonwealth contribution of $900,000 assuming a likely solar bank of 1 MW). That’s on top of funding for each solar bank for feasibility and development costs. The remaining 50% of capital costs, as well as operation, maintenance and overhead costs, are anticipated to be met by solar bank project owners or lessees.

The solar bank concept has been developed through the Institute of Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney and the Community Power Agency.

Community Power Agency project manager Kim Mallee told RenewEconomy: “Community energy projects such as ‘Solar Gardens’ play a critical role in the transition to renewable energy not just in terms of megawatt capacity but also in a way that is socially inclusive, creates social licence and stimulates meaningful regional economic development. In exchange for their owned/leased solar shares, participants receive discounts on their electricity bills via a retailer. Solar banks may be owned by community cooperatives, which would enter into energy agreements with developers and retailers on behalf of participants.”

If the ALP wins the government in next year’s federal election, it will be exciting to see this project roll out.

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David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].


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