Old Butter Factory businesses get solar

An innovative arrangement makes solar available to the small businesses at the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen. Drone photo courtesy of Kersten Schmidt.
An innovative arrangement makes solar available to the small businesses at the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen. Drone photo courtesy of Kersten Schmidt.

 Last month saw the installation of solar power on the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen, and in coming weeks, the electrical supply to the many small businesses it harbours will be remodeled to take advantage of the new power source.

While uptake of renewable energy by a substantial number of Bellingen businesses is welcome news, the $42,150 25kW system has a special twist.  

The owners of the premises didn’t pay for it; they just had to agree to purchase the power it generates.

Volunteer group Bellingen Shire Electricity Alliance facilitated the ‘marriage’ of local residents willing to invest with businesses at the Old Butter Factory who saw the benefits of a much cheaper source of power.

“The community bought the panels,” Paul Bryce from the BSEA said. “We got together 20 local residents who put in one unit of investment each into a trust fund, and that created the capital for the installation.”

The rate of return for these investors “depends on how long the sun shines each day”, Paul said, but it is expected to be around six per cent.

The innovative arrangement involves a unit trust investment house in Sydney called Clear Sky Solar Investments, which is a non-profit organisation that handles the legalities, sets up the trust, and pays the solar system provider, Port Macquarie Smart Commercial Solar.

The Old Butter Factory is owned by Ray Seaword and Pia Etteldorf, who operate the cafe and also lease space to the various arts and crafts shops located within the complex.

“They didn’t have to do a thing,” Paul said, “except sign a form that says whatever solar is produced, I will buy at a fixed rate according to this contract.”

Ray said that the decision simply made financial sense.

“There’s not any great altruistic thing to save the planet,” he said. “We were approached and they said do you want to halve your electricity bills? And we said, absolutely.”

Basically they rent our roof and we get cheaper electricity for ten years.

Ray Seaword

Paul noted that some of the smaller businesses at the Old Butter Factory had higher supply charges than usage charges.

“The other aspect of this is to amalgamate all the meters, so there will only be one supply charge,” he said.

The Old Butter Factory owner Ray Seaword

The Old Butter Factory owner Ray Seaword

As the owners of the complex, Ray and Pia will pay the total electricity bill, covering the two buildings that house eight shop tenants and two residential properties, and recoup a proportion of the cost from the other retailers.

“The usage cost for the solar power will be half what they’re typically paying now,” Paul said. “And the amalgamation of the meters means a better deal for the grid power that comes in. And they’ll have about one-tenth of the supply charges.”

So it’s a winner for everyone, with savings in both dollars and carbon dioxide, and an innovative first step towards a locally-owned electricity supply.

“It’s an indication of what can be done with people power,” Ray said. “The sky’s the limit.”

This is an updated version of a story that first appeared as Bellingen is becoming an energy leader.