Ballina Shire Council, in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, declared a state of climate emergency in 2019. Ballina wasn’t alone, or even a pioneer: it was joining more than 70 Australian councils that had already made the same declaration.
It’s now also among the councils that have translated climate concerns into a climate change policy. Ballina’s recently adopted policy commits it to 100% renewable electricity for its operations and net-zero operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
A key part of meeting this target is Ballina Shire Council’s solar power production, which doubled in late June with the installation of a combined 150kW solar system at the Alstonville and Wardell wastewater treatment plants.
This brought to 11 the number of solar farms on Ballina’s council sites, including installations at the administration centre, works depot and community facilities such as the Lennox Head Cultural Centre and public swimming pools.
“Once complete, council’s water and wastewater solar strategy will see the installation of almost 1MW of solar at our wastewater treatment sites, which will double council’s current solar generation,” says Ballina Shire mayor Sharon Cadwallader.
“The installation of these innovative panels is just one way council is supporting renewable energy use and is part of our climate change policy, which outlines ambitious organisational emissions-reduction targets and provides a framework for progressing climate change strategies for council and the community.
“Council is currently generating 10% of its electricity needs from onsite solar installations. The wastewater treatment plant installations will increase solar generation to 20% within the next 12 months.”
The wastewater system uses 5B Maverick solar technology designed and manufactured in Australia. The pre-mounted and pre-wired arrays are designed to transport easily and generate twice the amount of energy as conventional ground-mounted solar from the same footprint of land. They can also be redeployed.
The 5B Maverick arrays include up to 90 solar panels mounted on racks.
The 100kW system installed at Alstonville Wastewater Treatment Plant will produce 31% of its power needs and is expected to decrease the plant’s power bill by about 26%. The 50kW system that will be installed at Wardell Wastewater Treatment Plant will produce 55% of the plant’s current power needs.
Ballina Shire Council’s Climate Change Policy includes predictions from the NSW Government’s Integrated Regional Vulnerability Assessment: North Coast of New South Wales, which notes that maximum temperatures are projected to increase in the near future (2020–39) by 0.4-1.0°C, and up to 2.4°C in the far future (2060–79).
The report projects there will be more hot days, less rain in winter and more rain in autumn and spring on the north coast. Average and severe fire weather is projected to increase in summer and spring.
“Council has an important role to continually improve its understanding of the risks and impacts from climate change in our region,” the Ballina policy says.
“Council is one of the largest organisations in the Ballina Shire and operation of Council assets and provision of services generates a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions per annum.
“Council also has an important role in protecting and enhancing our natural and community-owned assets, and in supporting shire-wide climate change strategies.”
Ballina Shire is among more than 170 councils in Australia that have joined the Cities Power Partnership (CPP), a national program run by the Climate Council to form a network for local government to share their resources and experiences with climate and clean energy solutions.
Marie Low has been a journalist and communications advisor for more than 30 years. She has also worked as a media advisor to state government ministers, headed a government media department and worked within a well-regarded metropolitan communications consultancy as a senior consultant. Her family tree change brought her to Tenterfield and then Gunnedah where she now is one half of Two Cats Creative.
The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.
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