‘Old energy, new energy’: Victoria’s former State Coal Mine site now runs on solar

Solar battery farm opens on site of State Coal Mine on Victoria's Bass Coast.

A solar array and battery storage facility has opened on the site of Victoria’s former State Coal Mine in South Gippsland on the Bass Coast. As reported by the Bass Coast Post, on Saturday, Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio flicked the ceremonial switch on the new Wonthaggi solar array.

The 92 kW of solar panels and 41 kWh of battery storage will now power Wonthaggi’s coal mine museum, a major tourist attraction. Visitors can go down the mine and look at the conditions in which miners and the pit ponies worked.

Wonthaggi solar array shows how far energy has come

The solar panels were placed on land rather than the rooftop because the existing buildings have heritage value. This enabled the project to grow into a solar farm of significant size.

Solar battery farm opens on site of State Coal Mine on Victoria's Bass Coast.

Solar now powers Victoria’s former State Coal Mine where visitors can step back in time. Image: Visit Bass Coast

The batteries also show how far energy storage has come, the Bass Coast Post points out. They no longer need a factory-sized shed to house them. The mine’s batteries are sited in a small building not much bigger than a single garage.

The Wonthaggi solar battery farm began life five years ago during a discussion about adding a few solar panels to the mine site.

According to D’Ambrosio, it can now be a template for other community energy projects around Gippsland, Victoria and Australia as a whole.

Wonthaggi solar array catalyst for clean regional energy

The Energy Innovation Co-operative (EICO) developed the project along with the Victorian Government, Bass Coast and South Gippsland councils, the Bass Coast Community Fund and Parks Victoria (PV).

PV operates the State Coal Mine attraction and will therefore pay EICO for the power it uses. Proceeds will then fund other community energy projects throughout Bass Coast and South Gippsland.

EICO will choose electricity retailers who specialise in community energy projects to buy back excess power.

The solar battery farm cost more than $400,000 to build. The Victorian Government’s New Energy Jobs Fund donated $242,000 with $60,000 from the Bass Coast Community Fund. The balance came from the two councils.

Social battery farm a vital community resource

EICO President Moragh McKay says the Gippsland solar farm is a valuable community resource which keeps money in the local economy. She hopes a portfolio of projects will follow.

According to Project Manager John Coulter, it’s a wonderful thing to power a coal mine using solar energy.

“The past and the future. Old energy, new energy. How good would that be?” he said during his speech.

He referred to the very start of the Wonthaggi solar array project – when a few interested people gathered at the State Coal Mine café to discuss the cost of the solar panels.

John and Moragh both struggled with bureaucracy to get the project finalised. However, Moragh says the “long journey with so many pieces to juggle” had a happy end.