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Author: Ursula Malone
Source: ABC News
Date: 22nd December 2016

Mum and dad investors are using their savings to fund a half-a-million-dollar solar energy project at the Wesfarmers-owned Blackwoods distribution depot at Canning Vale in Western Australia.

Blackwood is the country’s largest distributor of industrial and safety supplies and its Canning Vale depot will have 630 solar panels installed on its roof in the New Year.

“Wesfarmers is an enormous company but it is also Australia’s largest private employer so there is an enormous connection [with the community] already,” said Wesfarmers sustainability lead Patrick Heagney.

“We have an internal target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, so this is something we’re very proud of.”

The 200-kilowatt system will supply a quarter of the business’s electricity needs.

Mr Heagney said it was the biggest single solar installation in the Wesfarmers group, and the first funded by community investors.


Investors expecting solid returns

The community funding model for solar projects was developed by solar innovator Huon Hoogesteger and Emeritus Professor of Economics at University of Technology Sydney, Warren Yeates.

“Within 48 hours we had fully subscribed investors for that particular installation,” said Mr Hoogesteger.

“We actually lack rooftops, we don’t have as many clients as we do investors.”

Self-funded retiree Janet France has invested $23,000 of her savings in the Blackwoods project.

“The return there was 6.3 per cent but still astonishing compared to 2.7 per cent the banks are offering at the most,” she said.

“Secondly the environment, it’s a win for renewable energy and thirdly, the company gets to keep the panels after the seven-year period.”

The solar panels bought by Janet France and the other investors are leased to the company, which buys the energy they produce, for seven years.

“We’re able to install the system free of charge, at no capital expense to the business and then simply bill them for the energy over time,” said Mr Hoogesteger.

“The price is lower than their current grid power, it’s already cheaper, so we’re saving them money.”


Demand for solar investment heats up

At the end of the lease investors are expecting to get their money back and a healthy return, with Blackwoods taking ownership of the solar panels after the lease expires.

The company will then have another 15 to 20 years of free renewable energy before the panels need replacing.

The funding deal was brokered by the not-for-profit company Clear Sky Solar Investments.

“There’s certainly a big demand for solar investment,” said director Neale Siebert.

“Fossil fuels are becoming more risky as an investment, a lot of people are pulling their money out and they need somewhere to invest and solar and renewable energy is one of the growth industries.”

Janet France said she sees renewable energy as a sound investment.

“I am actually pulling money out of bank investments and putting it into this project,” she said.


Read more at ABC News.