Darlington Point Solar Farm
Location: Darlington Point, New South Wales (NSW), Australia
Homes powered: 115,000 homes (equivalent to 5% of homes in NSW)
Renewable energy generated: 685,000 MWh each year (equivalent to 420,000+ barrels of oil). Expected to offset equivalent to 154,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions over its 35 year life
Jobs created: 500 construction jobs. Plus created local micro-economy
Size: 2,000 acres of land with a 19km perimeter, housing more than 1 million solar panels
Octopus investment in Australia’s largest solar power energy farm delivers more than just environmental returns.
Octopus Investments is one of Europe’s largest renewable energy investors. In 2018, the business saw an opportunity to bring its skills and experience to the Australian market. After setting up a large team on the ground, Octopus Investments Australia made its first Australian investment in Darlington Point solar farm in New South Wales (NSW). Darlington Point will be Australia’s largest solar farm once the project is completed in late 2020. Since construction of the farm began, Octopus has been focused on much more than providing clean energy. Working closely with local councils, the company aims to support the local community, providing as many jobs and economic opportunities as possible for the area.
Meeting Australia’s energy needs
Traditionally, Australia has relied on fossil fuels to power most of its homes and businesses. The country is also one of the world’s largest exporters of coal. But faced with the damaging effects of climate change and global warming, Australia needs to use more renewable energy to power the country.
“Australia has taken its time to embrace renewable energy,” said Kate McClure, who manages the Darlington Point solar farm project at Octopus Investments Australia.
“We’re one of the world’s most reliant countries on coal and natural gas. Last year, coal and gas were 80% of Australia’s energy mix. By 2020, 55% of Australia’s coal fired power stations will be over 30 years old, and much of it will be either retired or scheduled for retirement.
“This means there will be a significant drop in energy supply coming from coal-fired power stations, alongside a growing population and higher demand. It’s estimated we’ll need around AUS$170 billion of new energy investments in the coming years, to keep up with this demand. Octopus Investments Australia wants to help fill that gap.”
In 2018, Octopus Investments Australia partnered with solar developer Edify Energy to build a new solar farm at Darlington Point.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment granted Octopus permission to begin development in December 2018. In the same month, NSW energy supplier Delta Energy announced a purchase power agreement, which will see them use 55% of the energy the solar farm produces over the next ten years.
EPC, a joint venture between Signal Energy and Canadian Solar, was appointed for onsite construction. Canadian Solar oversees operations and maintenance.
Building Community Benefits
The Darlington Point solar farm is located ten kilometres away from the small, rural town of Darlington Point, where the population is just over 1,000 people. Creating opportunities for the local community in the town has been a huge focus for Octopus.
“We want to make a real difference,” said McClure. “We’re creating a more sustainable future and providing cleaner energy, but we’re also keen to find innovative ways to help local communities. Our sites are going to part of the local lives for at least 35 years, so we want to ensure they remain a positive part.”
Working with their partner company, Signal, Octopus held a careers fair in Darlington Point to advertise jobs to the local community.
“More than 180 people (that’s over 10% of the town’s population) came to the careers fair,” said McClure. “Of the 500 construction workers at Darlington Point, 25% of them are from the local area. We are also proud to say around 30% of these workers are women, which is high for rural construction jobs like this.”
Kellie Dissegna, Economic & Tourism Development Manager for the local council, has worked closely with Octopus throughout the project and has witnessed numerous benefits to the community.
“The project is already having a positive impact on Darlington Point town,” said Dissegna. “Unemployment in the area has dropped to 2.4% and we’re working with Octopus to see how the local community can benefit from traineeships at the energy farm in the future.
“The accommodation side has also boomed, with locals renovating and renting out their farmhouses as places for workers to stay during the construction.”
From the grass roots up
Octopus Investments Australia is working with the local council to develop more infrastructure that could benefit the community.
“There are the obvious initial benefits such as jobs, and the local fuel companies and supermarket benefiting,” said Dissegna. “But Octopus are also looking at how they might be able to provide things like further solar panels for housing, the local community centre and the school.”
Another example is the Octopus project to develop a smart watering system. Once introduced the system will replace existing sprinklers in the town’s parks and gardens and will use sensors to whether there is enough moisture in the ground. It could potentially cut the drought-impacted community’s water usage by 33% and deliver savings for the council.
The council is also in discussions with Octopus to provide the town with superfast WiFi, helping the population of Darlington Point stay better connected.
Local businesses have benefitted from the solar farm’s construction too; local restaurant Kel’s Kitchen has been employed to supply the farm’s 500 construction workers with breakfast and lunch each day.
“We’re predominantly a small, agricultural community so having such a significant, positive investment which brings economic diversity is a huge boost,” said Dissegna. “I think a lot of the community is very excited that something new is coming to our area, and from the start people have been discussing ways it could benefit our local economy. This initiative literally goes from grassroots all the way up with the economic benefits it delivers.”