Growers get on-board with solar

Growers get on-board with solar
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Greenpatch's Mark Modra is looking into a solar farm investment on his property to provide future energy security.

This article first appeared in the Stock Journal on the 29th of December, 2017, written by Vanessa Binks.

Solar farms have become a part of the Riverland's landscape as an increased number of primary producers take the opportunity to diversify their operations and create more financial security, but interest in the investment has also spread to the Eyre Peninsula.

In 2015 Mark Yates, Redmud Green Energy, Renmark, began offering ground-mounted solar farms to agriculture, horticulture and viticulture producers.

Using vacant or non-viable land, growers have been able to supply energy directly back to the wholesale market and have reduced on-farm production costs.

The Riverland region has 17 solar farms operating with a further 20 under construction and Mr Yates said after the Riverland's crippling drought in the 2000s, he began to look into ways to help reactivate land.

"In bad times across all sectors growers were contemplating whether to continue to farm, a lot sold their water entitlements so the region had hectares of land with no water," he said.

"We turned land into solar farms to give a second income for farmers."

Since 2015 farmers have had an average 15 per cent annual return on their investment.

An average 200-kilowatt solar panel site features about 800 panels across a land footprint of 0.4ha, which produces about 330 megawatts annually.

"The beneficial part is if a farmer has energy consumption on-site, such as a pump or centre pivot, the solar energy can be used to offset the operation costs of the current business operations,” Mr Yates said.

 

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Mark Modra, Greenpatch, near Port Lincoln, crops 2000 hectares of wheat, canola and lupins, and is looking to install a 200kW system on his farm.

"Generating an extra income from it and the energy security on-farm are the main reasons," Mr Modra said.

"The security is a big factor because when we lost power for five days (in September) last year, we were lucky it was not at a critical time of the farming program," he said.

"But I am still working out the risk and reward to ensure the project is viable for us."

An energy backup in peak consumption months was Mr Modra's biggest driver for looking at making the investment.

"At harvest time our sheds are working hard, so when the next blackout comes we need secure energy,” he said.