As Australia’s energy grid transitions towards renewables, water utilities also have a large role to play in reaching net zero emissions targets. North East Water is powering ahead and investing in a renewable energy source for its wastewater treatment plant.

A new 3MW solar farm is now powering the Wodonga Wastewater Treatment Plant with renewable energy. In a major step towards North East Water’s ambitions to reach net zero emissions by 2035, the 6,500-panel solar farm will reduce the Corporation’s carbon footprint by 20 per cent or 6,000t of carbon dioxide equivalence every year.

The $9 million solar farm, which uses a single-axis tracking system to increase solar capacity, is already generating more than enough electricity to power the plant during daylight hours, with surplus energy being fed into the electricity grid and offsetting power used at other sites.

North East Water’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint is being driven by the Statement of Obligations (Emission Reduction), which formally commits Victoria’s water corporations to achieve net zero by 2035. Managing Director, Jo Murdoch, said the solar farm is a shining example of how customer bills are being reinvested into projects and services that will benefit them directly.

“Not only is this project significantly reducing emissions which is good for the environment, it’s also reducing energy costs which helps to keep downward pressure on customer bills,” Ms Murdoch said. “We recognise Wodonga is a fast-growing region with a population and industry that is only set to grow.”

The solar farm project demonstrates the Victorian water sector’s leading contribution to reach net zero by 2035, with this government initiative putting Victoria’s 18 water corporations at the forefront of emission reductions. “The new solar farm is part of North East Water’s major investment in new and upgraded infrastructure to improve services for our customers and to build climate resilience,” Ms Murdoch said.

Environment, Systems and Operations General Manager John Day said buffer zones around wastewater treatment plants enabled solar farms to be built. “At our seven other treatment sites, where we don’t have land availability, we can put surplus energy generated here into the grid and extract and use it through a virtual metering network,” Mr Day said.

Victorian Government Water Minister, Harriet Shing, said Victoria’s state-managed water sector is the first in Australia to commit to net zero emissions by 2035. “Our water sector is leading the nation on emissions reductions – showing consumers and industry that we can tackle climate change and boost renewable energy use as our population grows,” Ms Shing said.

These targets also put the Victorian water sector alongside the United Kingdom as the world leader in water sector emissions reductions.

Delivering the Statement of Obligations (Emission Reduction) is a significant milestone for the government, and the state’s water sector, as we all work towards a net zero emissions future.

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