21 August 2015
by Ellen Sandell MP

What would it take to put solar panels on the MCG?

In the cities of the future, our iconic buildings and institutions will be powered by renewable energy. Powering iconic buildings with renewables not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but it sends a strong signal to people about the value of renewables. It inspires people and shows them how it can be done.

Right now, an important opportunity has just opened up with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announcing a $100 million solar photovoltaics competitive round. ARENA is seeking to build large-scale solar panel arrays across Australia, and the Victorian Government could partner to put solar panels on some of our most iconic buildings, such as the MCG.

MCG is currently undergoing an $8 million energy efficiency upgrade, which is predicted to cut its CO2 emissions by 20 per cent and massively cut costs. So why stop there? By putting solar panels on the MCG, we’d be able to show we’re serious about renewable energy in Victoria, reduce energy bills, and inspire footy fans around the country. 4 in 5 Victorians, many of whom are footy-mad like me, want more renewable energy. The Richmond Football Club on Punt Road has solar panels, so why not the spiritual home of AFL?

While our Federal Government is intent on destroying the renewable energy industry, ARENA is one of the few clean energy projects that remains. It was set up through an agreement between the Greens and the Gillard Labor Government and has successfully invested in projects from development through to commercialisation stage. We should jump on this opportunity while it still exists.

ARENA’s large-scale solar initiative follows a similar principle to the ACT’s reverse auction, where companies bid each other down to build solar at the lowest price. By partnering with ARENA to deliver a reverse-auction for projects that will specifically power Victoria, our state could leverage federal funds for solar projects right here at home, whether they be on the MCG or in other locations that are lower cost. We’d increase the power of our dollar and the scale of investment by combining our money with federal funds.

The ACT’s innovative reverse auction scheme has been hugely successful. It’s already got windfarm projects off the ground in SA and here in Victoria at Ararat. The security created by the government’s agreement to purchase power over time makes these projects financially viable.

Given our current dependence on highly polluting brown coal, Victoria has an extra responsibility to proactively develop renewable energy alternatives. I have been advocating for a Victorian Renewable Energy Target as a simple and effective way to build renewables, and to replace our dirtiest coal power plants like Hazelwood to reduce pollution and reduce oversupply so more renewable energy is able to enter the market.

I’ll keep pushing for these solutions, but in the short-term, working with ARENA presents a unique opportunity to bring more solar to Victoria – whether it be on the MCG or elsewhere – but the Andrews Government needs to act fast. The program is set to roll out in the coming months, and a joint agreement would need to be reached soon before all the money has been allocated to other projects.

Come September, the only thing better than seeing Richmond win under the lights at the MCG would be knowing that those same lights were powered by solar energy.