The community co-funded 3MW solar farm in Nowra has become the first grid-scale solar PV project to connect to the Endeavour Energy network.

The 8,000 panel project was developed through a community/private partnership, part-funded by local investors with electricity offered to local businesses via power purchase agreements through electricity retailer Flow Power. It will also supply some power to the City of Sydney.

It is the first solar farm to be built on the Endeavour network, which covers the Blue Mountains, the Illawarra and much of south-east NSW. Nearly all the state’s solar farms have been built in the west, north west and south west, in the Essential Energy network.

Flow Power, a private company owned by Kin Power Group, which is in turn majority-owned by Canadian pension fund OPTrust, came on board the community-based project to help deliver on benefits to local businesses and community investors.

In a statement, the company said it had contributed significant resources in supporting the Shoalhaven project, and would continue to do so through its operation, “driven by a corporate social responsibility undertaking to support the community outcomes.”

But the key driver behind the project has been Repower Shoalhaven – a not-for-profit social enterprise with more than seven years experience in developing community-based solar energy solutions.

Primarily, the group has been focused on helping local businesses shift to solar, including using a community funding model to install PV at the Nowra Bowling club, a local dairy farm and a timber yard.

The businesses do not pay for the system, but do pay the solar power they use. In 2016, RS had notched up $495,000 in community investment to fund a total of 325kW of solar on local business rooftops.

According to the Repower Shoalhaven website, the group is currently managing 22 commercial rooftop solar systems on behalf of our community investors and host businesses.

The solar farm, on Nowra Hill Road on land leased from Shoalhaven City Council, cost around $5 million to develop – including more than $600,000 from community investors – marking Repower Shoalhaven’s eighth, and largest, investment offering.

“Really proud to be a part of the team who developed the first solar farm on the South Coast of NSW,” said Repower Shoalhaven member Walter Moore on LinkedIn.

“A collaborative effort between Repower Shoalhaven, Flow Power and Shoalhaven City Council. The project also serves as a model of how a mid-sized renewables project can be developed without any support from state or federal governments,” he said.

“When a small group of us started RS in 2012 – we wanted to make renewables a win-win for our community,” said fellow member Chris Cooper, also on LinkedIn.

“Within 12 months, we succeeded in developing Australia’s first community investor-owned rooftop PV at Shoalhaven Heads. Since then, RS has gone on to funded over 30 projects on rooftops of local businesses, raising over $2m in local investment and generating regular shareholder returns.

“Repower is one of the best examples of community energy success in Australia. It’s still entirely volunteer driven with barely any grant funding.

“One of the key factors in Repower’s success is the ‘can-do culture’ which I’m glad to say has carried through to this day – we always were / are 100% focused on getting community energy projects built.

“Congratulations to the tireless volunteer Repower Shoalhaven team, Flow Power and Shoalhaven City Council (for leasing the land) and City of Sydney (for buying the energy). A true joint effort!”