Solar Revolution in the Nationals’ Heartland

New solar array on the Albion Hotel Swifts Creek

As far as I am aware the first solar panel operating in the old Omeo shire was in 1976. It was a tiny strip (10 X 45cm) powering a six volt battery for the radio on the Mt Nugong fire tower.  Ten years later my original installation of two 30 watt panels was one of the first done privately. These panels were prohibitively expensive at the time at about $12 per watt. But after 30 years they are still producing.

This was closely followed by installations on remote locations such as TV relay stations by solar advocate Richard Darby. Although these relays are no longer used, like mine the original solar panels are still active. Richard still installs panels on boreholes as ground water pumps, around a gold mine he has an interest in and has 5kw on his house.

From 2002 Tom Jack (“Solar Tom”) of Tambo Valley Electrics installed stand-alone power systems and solar arrays on isolated houses. The introduction of generous solar feed-in-tariffs (FIT) of 60c per kwh by the Victorian government in 2009 saw the first rapid expansion of rooftop solar. Tom and his family at Cassilis were among those who took early advantage of this installing 2 kws of panels on his large work shed. At the premium FIT this installation created income for the household and though the property is sold, will do so for another seven years.

The first business to install a large rooftop solar array was the Swifts Creek General Store in 2014 of 30kw – six times as large as the then permitted residential array or about 10 times the size of the average. Although expensive to install the array runs the store when the sun is out – equivalent to providing $600 of electricity per week. The value of this is many times better than bank interest. When they have too much power the excess is used to heat hot water for the store and an adjoining residence. The store has recently been followed by other commercial interests in town – the Swifts Creek Bakery and the Albion Hotel.

Swifts Creek baker Artie de Vries said their 10kw installation has cut their power bills by about half and he thought that the payback period was ‘about five years’. Being on the south side of McMillan Street the Albion Hotel’s array of 20kw is the most visible. That businesses are now installing much larger arrays than your average residential installation is the real revolution in the power industry. The daytime operation of many shops and offices is almost perfect for solar energy matching energy supply and demand.

In the meantime the Nationals at both State and Federal levels are doing their best to oppose and delay this revolution. Even their rusted on supporters must eventually see the contradiction this involves as electricity prices creep even higher and the energy security they promise fails to materialise. The solar revolution is going to happen anyway and the sooner it does the better for us all.