Outback town ideal place to soak up the sun

Barcaldine's Dunblane Solar farm a model of diversification

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Barcaldine producer and Dunblane solar site manager David Counsell.

Barcaldine producer and Dunblane solar site manager David Counsell.

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Barcaldine had the ideal combination of sunshine and infrastructure.

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Barcaldine might be better known for sheep and shearing but recently it's gained a reputation for sunshine as well.

YD Projects business development director John Hill said Barcaldine had an ideal mix of characteristics when then firm was scouting for solar farm projects a few years back.

The Dunblane Solar project started producing energy at the end of 2017 and today generates about 19 gigawatt hours of power per year.

To put that into perspective, Mr Hill said that was equivalent to the power consumption of 1387 average Queensland households.

"The area has the perfect combination of solar resource (sunshine) and network infrastructure (grid)," he said.

Dunblane Solar, which is named after the nearby wool property of local producer David Counsell, covers 8 hectares and consists of 33,792 solar panels.

There are several innovative features that distinguish the farm from other solar projects.

"The Dunblane solar farm takes up to one third of the land required for traditional 'tracking' solar plants," Mr Hill said.

"This make the build more cost effective and efficient and consumes less agricultural land than other projects do."

Another interesting aspect of the project was the way it was financed, Mr Hill said, with the plant majority owned by private shareholders who were also producers.

Although Barcaldine was an attractive location for solar projects, major investment was needed to boost network capacity for future production.

"At the time there was plenty of network capacity for renewables but that has been totally consumed by the solar farms now operating there," Mr Hill said.

"It would take major regional investment from the state government to open up any new capacity."

There were also other challenges that had to be overcome when connecting to the grid in a remote part of outback Australia.

"The grid in Barcaldine is classified by AEMO as having poor 'system strength' and refers to its fragility during stress events such as storms and extreme temperatures," Mr Hill said.

"This made obtaining connection approval from Ergon challenging but we worked through all that to be one of the first solar farms to meet the new system strength rules."

These obstacles didn't stop the solar plant being built in record time.

"The build was completed by Meralli Constructions in record time starting August 8, 2017, and completing October 20, 2017," Mr Hill said.

"I don't think any solar farm of this scale has been as fast.

"They made significant use of local workers and businesses to get the job done.

"We could not have completed without the help of the local community and council. Mayor Rob Chandler and his team deserve praise for their support."

In addition to his Dunblane property lending its name to the plant, wool grower David Counsell is also the site manager.

He said the Dunblane Solar farm was a great example of how agricultural areas could look to generate new income streams.

"The project has been fantastic and the blokes that built it were great as well," he said.

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