How Does it Work?
Steps to becoming a Solar Gardener
1. Become a member of Haystacks Solar Garden Co-operative here
2. Purchase a plot in the Solar Garden when they are available
3. If needed change your electricity retailer
4. Receive credit on your electricity bill
The Rock (Kengal) Nature Reserve. Credit: Destination NSW.
Back in 2016 Gemma, a farmer from Grong Grong, Jonathan, a solar project manager, and Tom, a community energy expert met and found a shared passion of making renewables accessible for everyone and enabling communities more control over their energy future.
We have been working together for three years to develop a renewable energy model that meets the criteria of local, community-owned and small scale solar.
During these conversations the idea for Haystacks Solar Garden was conceived and in February 2020 we were successful in obtaining a grant from the NSW Government’s Regional Community Energy Fund to help make it happen.
Reasons to join
Hassle free solar – the solar garden is installed off site and installation, insurance and ongoing maintenance is taken care of by the Haystacks Co-op for no extra cost
Portable solar – if you move you can take your solar with you
An on bill credit makes it very easy to manage your quarterly returns
Pioneering a new solar model – Solar gardens are popular in Europe and the United States, now it’s time to spread the community model across Australia
There are two streams to make the Haystacks Solar Garden a reality – the Solar Co-operative and the Solar Farm. This image maps out the tasks for each phase.
We will update this as we complete each task. It is also subject to change depending on the unfolding nature of COVID19 and other external events outside our control.
Haystacks Solar Garden
Frequently Asked Questions
Why the name Haystacks?
This region of the Riverina has been known for its quality hay and majestic thatched haystacks for over a century. Hay is the original source of fuel or energy grown and used by farmers and indeed any industry that relied on horses and bullocks for haulage and transport. It is a fitting name for a solar farm that is growing clean 21st century energy.
Plus a haystack is made strong by the sum of its parts in the same way our members will come together to collectively to own a solar garden.
What is a solar garden?
Just like you would purchase a plot in a local community garden, if you can’t grow veggies at your home, you can purchase a plot in a community-owned solar array off site if you can’t have solar panels at home.
How will it work?
We do this by joining together in a solar cooperative with many others who also want solar but can’t install it on their roof. Once we have enough people in the cooperative, a solar array is built off site in an ideal location for maximum solar generation.
Then each of the cooperative members can purchase a plot and become solar gardeners. An electricity retailer we partner with takes the electricity generated from the solar garden and provides an on-bill credit on the members’ electricity bills.
This is what makes a Solar Garden so different.
How do I get involved?
First you need to become a member of the Haystacks Solar Garden Co-operative (the Co-op) and spread the word. You can register your interest in becoming a member via our website:
The more members and interest we have the more likely we will get a good deal from an electricity retailer. Once we have that, members will be asked if they would like to buy a plot of the solar garden.
For this project to take off we need 399 members to join the cooperative. Note: We need more members than plots available in case not all members are not able to purchase a plot in the solar garden when the time comes (In October -November 2020). We hope to create more solar gardens in the future so these members can participate later.
How big is the proposed solar array?
If we receive development approval the solar array in Grong Grong will be 1.5 megawatts which is enough to power about 450 homes. It will cover around 3-4 hectares on the Meier Farms property. 1 megawatt will be for the Haystacks Solar Garden.
What size are the plots in the solar garden?
At this stage we are planning for each plot in the solar garden to be the same size – at 3kW. That means for the 1 megawatts solar garden we will have about 333 plots of 3kw.
Each plot will typically generate 4,200 kWh of electricity per year.
How much do the plots cost?
The final details of how much each plot will cost are not available yet, as we are still completing development preparations and approvals as well as confirming the components for the solar array.
However we expect it will be within the range of a rooftop solar system, which for a 3kw system is around $4200.
We plan to run a series of workshops so that members can review these details with us and assess their individual financial needs.
Why should I become a solar gardener?
There are many benefits of becoming a solar gardener, these are the key ones:
- Pioneering a new way of doing solar
An Australian first, this project will kickstart more community energy projects like this and build more resilience into our grid and communities through decentralising our energy system.
- Hassle free solar
No need to worry about maintenance issues, dealing with installers or reinforcing your roof.
- Portable solar
If you move, your solar plot moves with you. All you need to do is stay with the same electricity retailer and be in NSW. Otherwise you can sell your solar plot.
- Joining the renewables revolution
Everyone who joins the Haystacks Solar Garden is enabling more renewable energy to be built, supporting regional economies as the benefits of this project stay local, rather than going to foreign shareholders.
- Savings on your electricity bill
Your personal benefits include receiving an on-bill credit making your electricity bills cheaper.
Who will own the solar garden?
It will be a community-owned solar garden – anyone who becomes a member of the Haystacks Solar Garden Cooperative will be an owner of the solar garden.
This ensures that the revenue generated from the solar garden stays within the local economy.
The Cooperative will pay Meier Farms an annual fee to host the solar garden on their land.
What is an on-bill credit & how does it get paid?
The on-bill credits are the technical term for a dollar amount that will be on your electricity bill. It will discount the total amount you need to pay for electricity, reducing your bill.
What's the expected return/savings?
This will depend a lot on the agreement with the retailer, the energy market and the construction of the solar garden. It will also depend on how long the Solar Gardener stays in the Co-operative, the longer they are involved the better the returns.
We are still working on how to get the best value for our solar gardeners. Exact returns will be disclosed when a solar plot is offered to members in October/November 2020.
Is maintenance and insurance included?
All asset management cost including insurances and maintenance are covered by a proportion of the generation revenue. The one off membership fee and purchase price of a plot are the only costs to members.
Some solar farms have been limited from exporting to the grid recently. Is this a risk for Haystacks Solar Garden?
The Haystacks Solar Garden is connecting to an 11KVa line (the distribution rather than transmission network) in a non constrained area of the grid. The size and location of this project create low risk of generation curtailment.
What happens if I move interstate?
Initially the Haystacks Solar Garden is only available for NSW residents. If you move to another state where the participating retailer does not have a retail licence you will be required to sell or transfer your plot to another person.
This can either be a person or family member of your choice or can be made available to a waitlist of solar gardeners.
Who can be a member in the Haystacks Solar Garden?
We are preferencing people who live in the Riverina area of NSW as we want to ensure the benefits stay in the local community. This reaches from West Wyalong in the north, to Hay in the west, East to the Snowy Valley and south to the Victorian border.
Residents of the rest of NSW can also become members and will be offered solar garden plots after members from the Riverina.
Other parts of Australia will have to wait for the next solar garden – stay tuned!
How will preferences for solar plots be decided if oversubscribed?
Riverina residents will have first preference, then those without solar in other parts of NSW in chronological order of membership application, then those with solar in chronological order of membership application.
Can organisations or businesses buy a plot?
A non-profit can become a member of the Co-op if they pay an electricity bill in their name and then receive the on bill credits just like an individual member will. However one person will need to be nominated as the representative in the co-op.
We are only offering memberships of the solar garden to households and non-profit organisations.
What carbon or greenhouse gas emissions outcome do I get from this project?
Haystacks Solar Garden seeks to mimic a 3kW solar system on your roof fully exporting to the grid. As a collection of 3kW plots totaling 1 MW the solar array will be eligible to sell this exported solar energy as certified renewable energy and generate Large Generation Credits (LGC’s).
As this is not a time of use project for the Haystack members themselves, there will be no carbon offset potential for the members’ own energy use at home but it does contribute to the greater transition to renewable energy and significantly in unlocking this new ownership model.
Who is the electricity retailer & do I have to change retailers?
We have partnered with Enova Community Energy for our electricity retailer. You can learn more about them here
Enova was chosen as the participating retailer due to their passion and commitment to community renewable energy, values alignment, excellent customer service and experience in delivering a small scale solar garden already.
If you are not a customer of Enova you will need to switch once you have purchased your solar garden plot.
This will enable you to receive an electricity bill with your credit from your plot in the solar garden itemised next to your electricity usage.
Where is the solar garden?
A Development Application will be submitted for the proposed solar array to be built on a farm in the locality of Grong Grong, east of Narrandera in the Riverina of NSW.
This location was chosen as we have a relationship with the farmers and they are keen supporters of community-owned renewables and importantly it is close to the electricity distribution lines -meaning the connection to the grid is relatively straight-forward.
Why a cooperative?
Co-operatives are people centred organisations that are owned, controlled and used by their members. A co-operative’s main purpose is to benefit its members. In this instance the main benefit will be reduced electricity bills to the Haystacks Solar Garden Co-op members.
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.
We are choosing a co-operative as the business model to own and operate the solar farm so that the community can own the Haystacks Solar Garden through participation, engagement and investment, ensuring that the benefits remain local over the long term.
Murrumbidgee River Photo: Hay Shire Council.
Victory Memorial Gardens Photo: Visit Wagga Wagga
Riverina view Photo: Narrandera Shire Council
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