POWER PLAY: SuniTAFE CEO, Geoff Dea, Mildura Regional Development CEO, Daryl Buckingham, and Canadian Solar (Australia) general manager, Daniel Ruoss, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that could help transform the region into a centre of excellence in the renewable energy space. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By VINNIE RODI

A MEMORANDUM of Understanding (MoU) signed by Mildura Regional Development (MRD), Sunraysia Institute of TAFE and Canadian Solar (Australia) this week has the potential to transform Mildura into a “centre of excellence” in the renewable energy space.

Through the agreement, SuniTAFE will aid in the training of skilled workers for the growing renewable energy industry, providing Canadian Solar with a ready-made workforce to assist with current and future projects.

The MoU signed with SuniTAFE will also see Canadian Solar help shape future training programs, including skill development opportunities for those looking to be involved in the delivery and operation of solar farm projects in the region, and beyond.

SuniTAFE CEO, Geoff Dea, said that with the generation of solar power to be “an ongoing activity” in Sunraysia for some time, now was the time to embrace the industry.

“The MoU with SuniTAFE is very much around working together to develop the skills required going forward, so for us it’s a great opportunity to liaise with industry,” he said.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for SuniTAFE to engage and understand what’s required, and from there build the capability to administer training through courses, degrees or whatever else is required.

“We are effectively delivering training into a growing industry. For us that’s really important, as SuniTAFE is realigning its course offerings, and we need to be listening to where the jobs and skill gaps are.”

MRD CEO, Daryl Buckingham, agreed, saying the MoU was a step for Mildura to become recognised as a leader in industry.

“Importantly we want to create jobs for local people, and one of the other agreements that we’re working on is a partnership with one of our locally owned and built employment contractors,” he said.

“We know that the build of a power system or solar farm is a short-term event, but we also know that Canadian Solar are planning to build other projects across the country and even overseas, and they will need a well-trained cohort of ongoing staff.

“Rather than re-train, they will have a core group of staff in Mildura ready to come in and do the job. SuniTAFE becomes a trainer through this MoU, and all of sudden Mildura becomes a centre of excellence. If you want to train solar staff, send them to Mildura.

“While the jobs might not be based here, the economic benefit will certainly be seen.”

Canadian Solar (Australia) general manager, Daniel Ruoss, said the company saw Mildura as a “bottleneck” in Australia.

“We are pushing this from an industry perspective, and we’re very pleased to have this MoU in place,” he said. “The industry is booming, and there are a lot of systems being constructed, and we just need to get the jobs in place as quickly as possible.”

Canadian Solar (Australia) Senior Advisor, Shane Melotte, said Mildura could see a potential $1billion worth of solar investment built in the area in the next five years alone.

“There is already a lot of discussion of how the grid could be changed or modified to enable more projects to be built not just here, but across the country,” he said. “All of that means that there will be ongoing opportunities for people with the right skills to be involved in the delivery of these projects.”

Mr Buckingham said Mildura was fast becoming “a place of the month” in terms of solar farms and development.

“I think we have more sunlight than anywhere else in Australia,” he said. “The challenge of that is while we could build solar farms all around Mildura, we would then become a solar collector for the rest of the country.

“We have to look for value-adds in what we’re doing, and the best way to do that is to form partnerships with companies that have a vision and an understanding of the benefits of working with community to not only do the projects they start out with, but perhaps segway into other projects that are a value to that company and to the community.

“In the case of Canadian Solar we have been very fortunate as they have been responsive in working with us, and the community in general, to get a better outcome in terms of employment and research.

“One of the areas we’re going to explore through the SuniTAFE Smart Farm is better energy supply for our horticulturists and agribusiness.”

Through the Mildura Smart Horticulture Centre – a joint initiative of MRD and SuniTAFE – all three organisations will investigate and identify ways to integrate renewable energy and reduce energy costs for consumers and business.

Candian Solar will also explore future community ownership of part of its proposed large-scale solar farm at Carwarp.