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Solar switch: 'We had to make a change'

MAGIC NUMBERS: North Isis cane grower John Russo watches the meter on his solar power system.
MAGIC NUMBERS: North Isis cane grower John Russo watches the meter on his solar power system. Eliza Goetze

IN DIRE times for sugar cane growers across the region, John Russo is counting himself lucky.

Last year he installed a solar array and centre pivot irrigation system, and without it, he said he would not have coped with this year's devastating dry spell.

A tour of more 70 growers visited his North Isis property recently to check out the innovation born out of necessity.

"The alarming fact for us was our corresponding power bill this quarter last year was about $9400,” he said.

"So we had to do some sort of change or we wouldn't remain sustainable.”

He spent that season wheeling 6 winch irrigators around a 12.5ha field of peanuts on rotation.

"Now we've got 34ha of peanuts plus 6ha of cane that I'm maintaining, in probably one of the worst droughts, and we've already saved $5000 in power bills this quarter.”

He traded a 45kw motor used to run a high pressure irrigator for a 23kw motor with a solar array.

"When the sun is really bright, the solar can run the motor entirely,” he explained.

Every time he sees the meter drop to 0.0kw it gives Mr Russo a buzz.

SHINE ON: Isis cane grower John Russo with the solar panels he has installed to power his centre pivot irrigation system.
SHINE ON: Isis cane grower John Russo with the solar panels he has installed to power his centre pivot irrigation system. Eliza Goetze

And it is all controlled on an app on his mobile phone which allows him to direct the pivot irrigation and see how much power is feeding in from the array.

He expects a cost benefit of around $27,000 a year which will recoup the cost of the solar array and pivot system in about six years.

Now he wants legislation to catch up to allow farmers to put more than 5kw per day back into the grid.

"That would slowly help pay it off - they're talking all this renewable, but they're not letting us give it back.”

With a shortfall of around 300mm of rain for the region since the start of the year, his remaining concern, like his peers, is water.

"It is shocking,” Mr Russo said.

"In this area we've missed out...we got 20mm on Christmas and that was the last substantial rain we've had - and that's nothing.”

His cane is still green, but it is a couple of months behind its normal growth.

"We've had to buy extra water and everyone is concerned about how long the water will last.

"The biggest issue we have is what will happen next year if it doesn't rain? How will we fill our dams?”

Topics:  canegrower electricity farmer power bill renewable energy solar


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