The renewable energy sector continues to grow across Australia, and regional land owners are becoming part of the long-term sustainable electricity production outlook.

In South Australia’s Riverland region, Cathy Kruger has leased most of her 7-hectare property to host a solar farm for 40 years.

As the national issue of red wine oversupply continues and some grape growers remove vineyards to exit the industry, Ms Kruger encouraged other landowners to consider repurposing their properties for renewable energy projects.

“The block across the road from our block had grapevines, but … as long as probably the last 10 years the vines have all been dead there,” she said.

“To make it a bit more viable … he has now signed up to be a part of the second phase of the project.

“So eventually our farm will spread over into his property as well.”

Cathy Kruger, with her partner Paui O’Donnell, says her property was useless to her until it became a solar farm.(ABC Riverland: Timu King)

In 2018, Ms Kruger was approached by South Australian company Green Gold Energy with an offer to lease her land for large-scale solar.

“The reason they selected our property was because it was close to a substation and it had the power lines and the capacity to hold that solar,” she said.

“It isn’t something that I believe can just be built anywhere. It has to be built in a region that has that infrastructure in place.”

The solar panels and battery energy storage system were completed in 2022, and with a capacity of 2.2 megawatts (MW) it produces 5.5MWh (an MWh, or megawatt hour, equals 1,000 kilowatts of electricity generated per hour) for more than 500 households.

Cathy Kruger’s land lay bare for more than a decade before being leased to host a solar farm.(Supplied: Green Gold Energy)

Unviable for crops, but growing energy

When Ms Kruger bought the Loveday property in the early 2000s, it was home to herself and her three young sons, and land for her horse to roam.

After selling the horse, Ms Kruger said she was left with “derelict land” where nothing would grow.

“The land is zoned as rural, so I couldn’t subdivide it — I couldn’t make any other income off it,” she said.

“The possibility of actually producing anything was nearly non-existent, and certainly not worth what it would’ve cost to get water, and also set up the property for irrigation.

“I imagined trying to grow crops for arid regions, and we tried to put in some arid lucerne — it just wouldn’t grow.”

Renewable projects in demand

The amount of rooftop solar in Australia is predicted to more than triple by 2054, with the Grattan Institute’s energy and climate change program director Tony Wood saying land-based solar projects are also on the rise.

Ms Kruger says keeping her land lease will help provide for her family.(ABC Riverland: Timu King)

“It is growing because there is huge demand for more renewable energy,” he said.

“The role of solar becomes important, not just to replace fossil fuel-based electricity, but also to replace the fossil fuel called gas in our system as well.

“There’s a huge potential here and that means lots of opportunities.”

The Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood says there is a growing demand for renewable projects like solar farms.(ABC News: Steve Keen)

Mr Wood said regional land owners could play a part in Australia’s ongoing transition to renewable energy in different ways.

“You might have someone [on] a vineyard who might want to have a small solar farm on their property to provide electricity on their farm,” he said.

“A large dedicated solar farm is designed just to export electricity to the grid and may not provide any electricity to the owner of the solar farm on their own property.”

Neighbourly support

A CSIRO poll of 6,700 people last year found most Australians were willing to live near renewable energy developments, with support for solar farms the highest among respondents, at 88 per cent.

Ms Kruger said Green Gold Energy approached her surrounding neighbours and explained the project before it went ahead, with no complaints or pushback.

Ms Kruger’s Loveday solar farm has a 2.2 megawatt capacity.(Supplied: Green Gold Energy)

Multiple companies have offered to purchase the 40-year lease, however Ms Kruger said the passive income covered her mortgage repayments with a little extra left over.

Ms Kruger said the lease would outlive her, but she hoped it would continue to provide an income for her family.

“I like the idea of having this available to hand out to my children so that when I’m gone, that’s something a little bit extra they’ll get for a few years.”

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