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92.9fm Regional News

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Community solar project approved, set to light up Manilla before end of 2021

A community-driven solar farm has been approved by the Northern Regional Planning Panel and will start construction early next year.

The project slated for 4133 Manilla Road will provide just under 5 megawatts of power and be sold directly to the local community.

The project is a joint partnership with Manilla Community Renewable Engery Inc and Providence Asset Group.

Emma Stilts, Manilla Community Renewable Energy inc, said they are overjoyed with the determination.

“After such a trying year, this is such welcome news," Ms Stilts said, "This project is what our community needs - Local investment in renewable energy infrastructure."

Llewellyn Owens, Providence Asset Group Chief Technology Officer, said the company has a commitment to using local contractors and will open up tenders from early next year.

"A lot of the installation labour will be done locally," Mr Owens said, "Lots of the skills that we need are already here like electricians, machinery operators, earthwork contractors and more."

The project is now waiting for their grid connection application with Essential Energy to be approved then they plan to open up their project for community investment.

Ms Stilts said they could be opening the project up as soon as February.

"We would welcome anyone from the Tamworth/Manilla local government area to be able to buy in," Ms Silts said.

One condition of the approval is to plant a tree line and protection of the waterway that's nearby.

"We'll be building a tree line to ensure you can't see the solar farm from the road," Mr Owens said, "And we are making sure we protect the waterway by engaging with experts and the local community."

Several large solar farms have recently been approved in the New England much to the dismay of farmers who say its a waste of prime agricultural land.

Ms Stilts said the special thing about this smaller sized project is that it can work hand in hand with agriculture.

"We do not want to forego agricultural land for energy production," Ms Stilts said, "That's what we are trying to avoid with dangerous fossil fuel expansion other parts of our region."

Ms Stilts said their solar farm will have a co-production of energy and agriculture on the same land.

"We'll have sheep grazing in the paddock as well the solar production," Ms Stilts said, "I think with these smaller-scale projects that is a really viable outcome."

Construction is slated to commence in the first quarter of 2021 and production of solar is expected to commence before the end of next year if all goes to plan.


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