Solar Farm, Sam?

Solar Farm, Sam?

In December last year, The Weekend Australian published an article which provided some insight into our Redmud Green Energy project from the perspective of land-owner and grape grower Sam Albanese. Being one of the early adopters of the project after a hailstorm in 2016 wiped out a large portion of his grape vines, Sam finally made the decision to install a solar farm on his property, and then a second installation when twelve months later he received an electricity bill which saw a 130% increase on his previous year’s rates.

“Albanese is part of an unusual renaissance for a community that is still feeling the effects of a drought a decade ago that saw scores of farmers give up their livelihood” writes author Andrew White, referring to the lifeblood water entitlements that are so very precious to Riverland farmers which, once sold, effectively render farming land redundant.

Yet, in the wake of drought, discerning farmers are finding new and innovative ways to simultaneously supplement their income streams while reactivating these redundant land parcels, with solar farming fast becoming a viable solution for many Riverland based growers. So much so in fact, that since Redmud Green Energy’s inception in 2016, over 40 solar farms have now been erected throughout the Riverland by local land-owners looking to diversify.

“We weren’t sure how this was going to go,” said Mark Yates, director of Yates Electrical Services and the brains behind the Redmud Green Energy project, “when we first looked at our target market, we envisaged it would primarily be land-owners who have experienced drought and sold their water entitlements, rendering their farming land useless. The reality is that each of our developments have been on their own merit, and are much more diverse, with some farmers effectively retiring land specifically for the purposes of building a solar farm. In some instances they have removed the crops and have got out of traditional farming altogether.”
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And why not? From the data gathered by Yates Electrical Services for the first 12 months of operation of their prototype site, the return on investment for many land-owners is just too significant to ignore, and for many local land-owners, further analysis of operational sites reinforced that decision. Yet for Sam Albanese, being only the second developer of the model - and the first outside of direct involvement with the business - it was a much more considered decision.

It hasn’t all been bells and whistles though, as the learning curve for both the developer and the land-owners continues - particularly in Albanese’s case, where irrigation pumps were directly attached to the on-site solar installation. A few changes needed to be made in concern to pump running times to mitigate network demand charges, which took a bit of getting accustomed to, and resulted in high demand charges being included on Sam’s bill more than once. But a year on, Sam is much more comfortable with the system, and has even developed a much better understanding of the Australian electricity market, something which seemed like such a foreign concept to a simple grape grower from Renmark just a year ago.

For a man who took a leap of faith, Sam is noticeably humbled by his decision to get involved with the project, albeit as a Guinea Pig for the fledgling green energy project which found unpretentious beginnings in Renmark. So much so in fact, that Sam has now become a great advocate for the benefits to land-owners, often finding himself unintentionally involved in my marketing ideas for the project.

A year ago, in his interview to The Australian, Sam said of his involvement, “Will it (building solar farms) give stability? Yes, I think it will. And I will play my part and get paid for it.” I guess the question is, a year on, does Sam feel the same way?

I asked him.

He said ‘yes’.
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About the Author

Patrick is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Yates Electrical Services. When he's not designing stuff and writing stories, he performs as an acoustic soloist and spends time with his beautiful little family.

Patrick also likes long walks on the beach, sewing, and photoshopping himself to look like an Avenger. He really wishes he was an Avenger.