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Burning questions for solar co-op


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The Carterton District Council has sunk its teeth into plans to set up a solar park in Carterton by firing big questions at the co-operative initiative.

The co-op, named Energy Democracy, aims to bring solar energy to people who might not have otherwise be able to access it – be it because they are renters, or because the house they own is not well situated.

Last week, Energy Democracy chairwoman Shelley Major spoke to the council about the proposal at a policy and strategy committee meeting and fielded several questions about the project’s viability and suitability for the proposed site on council land.

Carterton District Councillor Tracey O’Callaghan said it might not be the best deal for the consumer.

An advocate for renewable energy, Ms O’Callaghan had priced her own solar panels at home at $5000, and while that did not include batteries it was still far from the proposed $10,000 buy in.

“The numbers are just not adding up,” she said at the meeting.

She also questioned if the land could better serve the public as a cycle or walkway – “we haven’t investigated the other options”.

Carterton District Councillor Brian Deller said council was being “a little hasty” with its approach.

“We should be workshopping this and discussing it among ourselves,” he said.

There could be a better use of the land, with Mr Deller suggesting it might earn about $3500 to $4500 a year if leased.

Carterton District Councillor Jill Greathead was concerned it might be out of reach for low income families.

The committee decided the proposal needed to come back before a full council meeting instead of granting an option to lease – which was the proposed motion.

The motion to bring it back to council was moved by John Booth, seconded by Ms Greathead and supported unanimously.

Speaking to the Times-Age yesterday, Ms Major said the meeting had brought great questions to the fore and that councillors had been doing their homework.

However, it was running the risk of “not actually looking at like for like”.

“It’s going to be a big advantage when we can get more detail in front of potential members so that they can make a decision for themselves.”

The issue of cost was “sort of one dimensional” because there were a lot more benefits to consider than just price point.

The price had not been finalised.

“We are working to get it as cheap as possible,” Ms Major said.

“We not looking at a 1.2 kilowatt hour battery either, we are looking at a 5-kilowatt hour battery.”

“It’s not the minimum investment, it’s the best return – which is a different lens.”

She said they were still working on getting the best deal to make it more accessible and as sustainable as possible in the long-term.

“Even after the panels and batteries have reached the end of their useful life, the idea is that the co-op has maintained depreciation reserves and can fund replacement without having to go back to members.”

They had been having “fruitful” discussions with organisation about how it could be easier for lower income houses to participate, she said.

It was up to council to decide if it was a good investment for the land, she said.

“Our understanding is that it is in effect waste land. We know we have to negotiate an option to lease, we haven’t had that discussion yet.”




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