Embark chair Simon Holmes à Court

25 June 2013 — Not-for-profit Embark is helping major infrastructure projects make significant contributions to clean energy expansion through a community-led solar farm initiative, starting with the Darling Harbour precinct development.

The organisation, the brainchild of Simon Holmes à Court – director of community-led wind farm Hepburn Wind – and Mary Dougherty, is part of the Lend Lease consortium redeveloping Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct in Darling Harbour.

The $2.5 billion Darling Harbour upgrade includes a plan for a 400 kilowatt community-based solar farm housed on the roofs of the new exhibition centre and entertainment complex, which is projected to provide base power requirements for the buildings.

Embark executive director Andy Cavanagh-Downs, says his organisation’s proposal won’t just benefit SICEEP, but could be used as a model for other significant developments.

“A community group puts forward a proposal to an energy consumer to build a solar farm at a predetermined site,” he explains.

“Once that is accepted, the community group sets up a company with a board that manages the project.

“The company raises capital to totally fund the project from the local community.

“That capital is then used to procure and install the solar equipment at the site.

“The output of the solar installation is sold to the energy consumer over a 25-year period.

“Local investors get a return on capital of five percent per annum.”

Mr Cavanagh-Downs says the model provides benefits to the local community, the business world and the environment.

“It gives local residents the opportunity to participate in a worthwhile project – a group of people take a stand and there is the reward of achieving a goal,” he says.

“The host of the project gets to purchase more renewable energy and engage directly with the local community.

“They are seen as responsible corporate citizens that use existing procurement procedures to affect social and environmental change.”

Under the Embark model the community board get to choose a “good cause for the year” and give investors the opportunity to put their dividend, capital return or both towards the cause, which may be environment- or community-related.

Mr Cavanagh-Downs says the main challenge is finding project hosts able to commit for 25 years, though the operator of the exhibition centre and entertainment complex is on track to become the first.

He thinks more businesses will begin to pursue models like this “as the push for greater energy alternatives and local energy generation develops over the next decade and beyond”.

Embark executive director Andy Cavanagh-Downs will be a keynote speaker at All-Energy Australia 2013 in Melbourne on 9 October and 10 October.