The Sunshine Coast could become the alternative energy capital of coastal Australia with Sunshine Coast Council set to build a solar farm to meet its electricity needs.

Mayor Mark Jamieson said the Sunshine Coast would live up to its name by tapping into the energy of the sun to deliver a multi-million-dollar saving for ratepayers.

“If our market-sounding exercises stack up, we would be the first council to build a solar farm at utility scale in Australia, and it will be potentially the largest in the nation,” Mayor Jamieson said.

“This would save money, reduce our carbon footprint and take the Sunshine Coast one step closer to becoming the most sustainable region in Australia.

“The $24-30m solar farm proposed to be built at Valdora near Coolum would meet half of council’s electricity needs for at least the next 30 years.

“Currently council spends about $11m annually on electricity and like everyone else has been exposed to the marked increases in power prices in recent years.

“Over the next three decades council is expected to pay in excess of $110m for electricity, and the solar farm would have the potential to reduce that by many millions of dollars.”

An investment in the solar farm would also generate $10m for the local economy over the next 10 years and create 40 jobs during construction, Mayor Jamieson said.

Division 9 and Portfolio Councillor for New and Emerging Industries Stephen Robinson said more would be saved if the project life and output are greater than the initial conservative estimates.

“Council would also be well placed to leverage investment in the solar farm project by continuing to develop the ‘clean-tech’ industry hub on the Sunshine Coast,” Councillor Robinson said.

“The region would be able to export the skills developed during construction to similar projects within and outside Queensland – further diversifying our economy.

“The environmental benefits would be substantial as council’s greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity usage would be expected to drop by about 50%.”

Energex Chief Executive Officer Terry Effeney said the company was fully supportive of the Valdora project, describing the solar farm as a positive application of solar PV for the community.

“Sunshine Coast Energex staff and technical experts from across the business have been involved in discussions regarding the project for some time and will continue working with the council during the implementation phase ahead,” he said.

“The Valdora project represents another step in the ongoing collaboration between the Sunshine Coast Council and Energex regarding local electricity supplies and peak demand management.”

Council thanks Energex for its contribution through this process, and also Damien Glanville and Jason Hague of Locality Planning Energy who have developed the initial concept.

In the coming weeks, council will call for an Expression of Interest to design and build the solar farm. This will be used to confirm the cost and benefit estimates.

While there are many challenges to be met, council is hopeful that the market-sounding exercise will generate significant responses from companies and consortia, to enable construction to commence in 2014.

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