Nimbin’s sustainability quest given boost

By Annabelle Nyst 29 June 2010
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Nimbin residents are installing a solar farm to supply the town with most of its energy and make it one of Australia’s most sustainbale communities.

DETERMINED TO SNATCH THE title of most sustainable community in Australia, the people of quaint northern NSW town Nimbin have been hard at work planning and installing a 45 kW solar farm which will bring them one step closer to their goal.

It has been estimated the project, combined with the residential uptake of grid-feed solar systems and the many existing stand-alone systems in Nimbin will generate up to 75 per cent of the town’s residential power needs.

The Community Solar project was developed by the Nimbin Neighbourhood and Information Centre (NNIC), which designed the farm in conjunction with Rainbow Power Company, one of the longest-standing renewable power designers and retailers in Australia.

The farm will feature solar arrays of 10 kW or less fixed to the roofs of six separate not-for-profit organisations in and around the town. The arrays (groups of solar panels) will be connected to inverters, which work by converting voltage generated by the panels into energy that is filtered back into the electricity grid.,

The idea was conceived during a community forum held in February 2009, where ‘Nimbinites’ voiced their collective desire to become energy neutral. According to team leader of the NNIC and project manager Natalie Meyer, this attitude is nothing new for the people of Nimbin.

“The solar project is only a small part of a much bigger vision,” she says. “We’ve been on the self-sufficient wagon for 30 years and the community is seeking to build upon its considerable achievements. Our goal is to become Australia’s most sustainable community.”

Boon for the community

The venture will create or retain three permanent jobs, three short-term jobs, one traineeship and five work-experience placements, which was the central motivation for the NNIC. “Not only is it addressing sustainability goals in terms of carbon emission,” says Natalie. “It’s primarily a social enterprise project, designed to create jobs.”

A cash-strapped NNIC aimed to create both a sustainable source of income as well as something that would meet the community’s sustainable goals. Installation expert John Davis, of partners Rainbow Power Company, says this was possible thanks to a State Government incentive which provides feed-in tariffs to owners of grid-feed solar systems.

Solar arrays can earn up to 60 cents per kWh, directing a significant amount of cash spent on energy usage back into owners’ pockets, John says. “The incentive is great, particularly for rural areas that have a moderately low energy output and receive plenty of sunlight.”

NSW tariff laws have been changed twice since the NNIC received funding from the Federal Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relation in September last year, forcing it to redesign the farm and causing a delay in the process.

Both NNIC and RPC are hopeful the array will be installed by December.