Most farmers I know have been experiencing the impact of climate change for two to three decades. As farmers we think constantly about what changes we can make to help mitigate it, what impact it has on the land, water and life we have in our care, and what this means for how we grow food, our environment, and for our kids’ future. It is our clear and present challenge.
Setting aside four hectares on our property to host Australia’s first solar garden seems to be a logical expansion of our business that also takes steps to address this challenge.
It’s a simple concept. Just like you’d sign up for a veggie plot in a community garden, you can join the co-operative, purchase a plot, and have your share of generated energy credited as a dollar-discount to your power bills. Everyone can access the benefits of solar energy in this project, even if they rent, live in apartments, or their homes are not suitable for rooftop solar.
This one megawatt project, the Haystacks Solar Garden will occupy about four hectares of land, leaving plenty of room for grazing and cropping. It will generate enough electricity to supply the daytime energy needs of up to 300 homes.
The solar garden is also small enough to be connected to the grid via existing poles and wires in our neighbourhoods.
Such mid-scale solar arrays could power communities across Australia while reshaping how we source our energy.
To date, the supply of renewables into Australia’s electricity grid has been bookended by large wind or solar projects at one end, and rooftop solar on the other.
Between these two extremes, there is a sweet spot of opportunity for communities, regional manufacturers, local government and people locked out of the rooftop solar market. That opportunity is solar gardens.
Mid-scale solar arrays are cost efficient to establish and will contribute new generation muscle, flexibility and security in our transition to a decentralised energy market.
They also offer a lower entry point for local investment, opportunities for local power purchase agreements, and support the growth of mid-scale industry and employment in regional areas.
Beyond the project taking shape on my own paddock, I see massive opportunity across the country for climate action, stronger regional economies, and connected communities through replicating projects like this one.
For us, hosting a solar garden that generates clean renewable energy alongside our crops and animals makes complete sense.
This opinion piece by Gemma Meier was first published in The Canberra Times and syndicated through regional news outlets.
Gemma Meier is a Grong Grong farmer and host of the Haystacks Solar Garden.