Sector: Events and functions
Address: 2164 Melba Hwy, Dixons Creek VIC 3775
Environmental Upgrade: 39.78kW solar system
Energy savings: $9724 per annum/$243,110 over the life of the project
Sustainability: Reduction of 59.73 tonnes of CO2 annually/1493 tonnes over the life of the project

Problem

The Yarra Valley Estate is a proudly sustainable corporate and wedding venue. With its warm, inviting atmosphere, and boasting the only edible forest in Victoria, it’s the leading conference and event venue in the Yarra Valley.

Co-owners John and Louise Ward are committed to running as sustainable a business as they can. Most of their waste products are recycled – either fed to their worm farm and chickens, turned into compost or taken to external processing sites. It means they were recently able to downgrade their rubbish dumpster to a teensy two square metre bin, which only needs to be emptied once every two or three months.

They’ve also turned their attentions to the Estate’s electricity usage, creating a culture where guests take what they need, and nothing more. Louise said it’s important that guests don’t leave the lights or heating on when they’re not in use, just because someone else is footing the bill.

“At the end of the day, we’re all paying the price of where the electricity comes from. Instead, everything is planned, and most of the guests find it very refreshing. I think in this venue, we’re able to change people’s ideas and ways of thinking about their actions.”

But the Wards still felt that something was missing; a set of solar panels would be the cherry on top for their woodland getaway.

“It’s something we’ve always looked at,” Louise said. “Previously we were told that we didn’t get enough sunlight, and that it wouldn’t work. But now, as technology’s advancing, it’s a lot better, and we decided it was the right time to get the solar on.”

Solution

With sustainability at the heart of the business, it made sense that only equally environmentally-conscious partners could help the Wards realise their solar panel dreams.

“The Sustainable Australia Fund are an ethical company who do good work, and we thought we could align very well with that,” Louise said. “We’ve also been through Covid, and the interrupted cashflow has been hard for everyone. But working with the Fund was great because someone was helping us pay the bills for something we really wanted to have on the property.”

The Wards also partnered with Mount Evelyn-based solar installers, iEnergytech. Installer Udayan Bhanot, who worked on the project, emphasised the inherent cost-effectiveness of switching to solar energy – even in a coastal state like Victoria.

“Given the current cost of electricity, and the sunshine that Australia enjoys, the payback for a solar system can be as low as four to five years,” he said. “Furthermore, the current Covid-19 tax benefits in place from the Australian Taxation Office can further reduce this payback to as low as, in some cases, two years! And of course, the biggest beneficiaries are the environment and future generations; what a win-win.”

He also had this advice for anyone on the hunt for installers to make their solar panel projects a reality:

“Find a reliable installer, with a track record of delivering safe and compliant systems,” he said. “This is hard because of all the marketing glib and ignorance out there, so do your due diligence carefully; get at least two to three quotes and get their solar specialist to visit the site. And DO NOT get caught up in smooth sales talk.

“Done well, solar panels will last decades. Done poorly, and it will be a limping asset posing dangers to the site.”

Process

The Wards chose to access our Environmental Upgrade Fund, which was enabled by Yarra Ranges Council. The loan was used to install a 39.78kW solar system on the roof of the Estate’s conference centre.

“Working with the Sustainable Australia Fund made it a lot more affordable, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much it will reduce our power,” Louise said.

She added that she found the process smooth and relatively hassle-free.

“The finance process went really well; there was a little bit of paperwork involved, but the Sustainable Australia Fund were very professional, and they weren’t hard to work with at all. It was a long process, but they helped us all the way.”

Outcome

Thanks to their new solar system, the Estate is projected to save 59.73 tonnes of CO2 a year – the equivalent of taking 13 cars off the road – and a whopping 1,493 tonnes over the life of the project – the same as culling 180 homes worth of annual energy usage.

This translates to a predicted saving of $9,724 savings a year, or $243,110 over the life of the project.

Fiona McAllister, a Councillor for Ryrie Ward, said these savings are a “phenomenal result”.

“I’m proud to see Yarra Valley Estate take a significant step to reduce their carbon footprint and enjoy the flow-on effect of lower power costs,” she said.

“Assisting local businesses to reduce their running costs while benefitting the environment is a wonderful thing, and I’d strongly encourage other councils to consider it. We’re very proud to be part of this program and to assist our business community in becoming more sustainable and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.”

Louise said she and John can now use the solar panels to prove that their business is doing everything it possibly can to function sustainably. They’re also planning to extend their journey towards renewable energy, by using their premises as a testing site for hydrogen power.

Louise had this advice to offer any businesses considering making the switch to renewable energy:

“Everyone needs to do their best now. We need to do everything we can to leave this planet behind for the next generation, and not just waste. Don’t think that you can’t do it; there’s always a way to make it happen, and there are a lot of resources you can tap into.”

Yarra Valley Estate

“Everyone needs to do their best now. We need to do everything we can to leave this planet behind for the next generation, and not just waste.” – Louise Ward, co-owner of the Yarra Valley Estate.

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