Shire call to turn tip site into power hub

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Power to the people: The site of the proposed solar generation plant at Rye. Picture: Yanni

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is seeking expressions of interest to turn a former tip into a solar energy plant.

The proposed plant at 119 Truemans Road, Capel Sound would use banks of solar panels to generate electricity to be bought by the shire, or sold back to the grid and used to power thousands of homes in surrounding suburbs.

The winning tenderer would build, own and run the plant for 25 years, with possible options for a longer term.

However, the capital-free solar generation and battery farm EoI campaign, which closed Monday 8 October, may have unintentionally excluded the company which suggested the idea back in March.

Volt Farmer’s project developer Stephen Todd said the explicit wording of the tender documents put him in an invidious position

He said his project “would have provided low cost, carbon-free and reliable power for over 1250 homes as a pilot”.

Under the heading “Canvassing”, the EoI document states: “The proponent, its employees or consultants must not approach … any councillor, member of council’s staff or consultant engaged by council: to solicit support for its proposal; or otherwise seek to influence the outcome of this expression of interest process.

“The proponent must, to the extent practicable and reasonable, avoid socialising with councillors or members of council’s team evaluating the proposals and, where such socialising occurs, refrain from discussing its proposal or the project.

“The proponent must direct all communications during the expression-of-interest process via the Tenderlink questions and answers forum.”

Mr Todd said he realised he had inadvertently breached those conditions as he had “already presented the project as an unsolicited approach to the shire”. He had discussed its features with councillors and staff, promoted it on social media and spruiked its benefits. He also touted a visitor education centre, complementary farm businesses, beehives and a data mining unit.

So, despite making the early running, Mr Todd concedes the EoI document “inadvertently excludes Volt Farmer from making an application to lease the land due to a perceived ‘unfair advantage’ over other solar farm developers”.

However, his interpretation of the legalities is at odds with those of the mayor Cr Bryan Payne and Cr Simon Brooks – as well as senior council officers – who all believe Volt Farmer is a bona fide contender and should put in a bid.

“It is a shame he is not tendering,” Cr Brooks said. “All the councillors were very enthusiastic of the Volt model and want it evaluated on its merits.

“The EoI was the mechanism we adopted.”

A philosophical Mr Todd said his proposals had been endorsed by United Energy and GreenSync as part of moves to create a network of small-scale renewable energy farms on the peninsula.

Power Ledger, which he described as “Australia’s leader in energy block-chain technology”, had also endorsed the Volt Farmer project.

Despite what he perceives as an unforeseen setback caused by the EoI campaign, Mr Todd said Mornington Peninsula councillors and officers had been “exceptionally supportive of the Volt Farmer proposal as it created a unique blend: renewable energy farm, educational resource and wider community economic development”.

He said Volt Farmer was “scoping out other sites on the peninsula to build a pilot project”.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 16 October 2018

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