A BALLARAT plant has completed the first stage of its solar panel rollout in an effort to reduce emissions.
To meet the plant's goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 per cent and reach 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, what is believed to be the nation's largest behind-the-meter renewable energy system is being installed at McCain Foods Ballarat's Wendouree plant.
Renewable Energy System Project Manager, Scott White, investigates and sees through all CO2 reduction activities for McCain Foods in Australia and New Zealand.
The company officially unveiled the first stage of its solar system at its Ballarat plant on Monday, with almost 10,000 solar panels now absorbing the sun's rays on previously vacant land behind the plant.
Thousands more solar panels will be installed on unused adjacent land and a solar array in the car park off the Ring Road in coming months, with 17,000 panels to be installed by the completion of the project.
The system is a single-axis tracking array with bifacial panels. Mr White said it was the first major project being undertaken using the panels, which generate energy from both sides - the reflection off the ground as well as directly from the sun.
"That technology gives us an uplift of about eight per cent," he said.
Prior to the project the plant was producing nearly 60,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.
"The solar alone will save 12,000 tonnes and the cogeneration system another 15,000 - so that's 27,000 tonnes of CO2 reduction just from this system," Mr White said.
That equates to the annual energy use of about 3000 households.
The solar alone will save 12,000 tonnes and the cogeneration system another 15,000 - so that's 27,000 tonnes of CO2 reduction just from this system- Scott White
Since the initial 9400 panels began operating in October last year, McCain Foods Ballarat has already saved about 3000 tonnes of CO2.
A cogeneration anaerobic digester system that uses biogas produced by food waste to generate energy will also soon be installed.
Both the solar and anaerobic digester systems will reduce the site's reliance on natural gas by about 16 per cent as well as energy consumed from the grid by about 39 per cent.
McCain Foods Ballarat is a big factory with "huge energy demand" and while the system may allow the plant to be offset during peak production and it may be able to inject electricity back into the grid during these times, most of the time it will still be consuming energy from the grid.
To fully offset the plant, Mr White said McCain was looking at other options including obtaining a large battery.
Globally McCain Foods has committed to step away from coal by 2025, halve CO2 emissions and have all plants powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
Mr White said its current project would significantly contribute to this goal but it was also exploring further ideas.
"We're not stopping here, we are going to build other solar farms around the region and we also have a large scale energy efficient program that we are rolling out as well to reduce our consumption and generate electricity."
Related coverage: McCain begins journey to becoming greener site
While acknowledging that such a large-scale project had its challenges, Mr White said the benefits outweighed them.
He said the project made "a lot of sense environmentally and economically".
"We can produce power from this system a lot cheaper than what we can if we're buying it from the grid so it's good for the environment, it's good for the business and when it's good for the business, it means that we've got a commitment to keep [and grow] jobs in the Ballarat region.
"It's a real stamp in the ground to say we're here for the long term."
City of Ballarat councillor Belinda Coates said "it was incredibly exciting" to see businesses transitioning to renewables.
"It's the direction of the future because it's smart business - it saves money but more importantly it's good for the environment by reducing emissions and creating a renewable future."
Cr Coates hoped other Ballarat businesses would follow.
"I hope it really demonstrates how smart it is to transition to renewables and really encourages other businesses and industry - big and small," Cr Coates said.
"One of the exciting things about this is that it's such a large business and shows that it's doable for large and smaller businesses."
Cr Coates said the City of Ballarat had its carbon neutrality and 100 per cent renewables action plan for the council's operations but also wanted to provide some leadership for a community and city-wide target for carbon neutrality.
"We will be looking at working with the community on setting a, hopefully, ambitious target."
She would personally like to see it achieved within 10 years, but this will be dependent on community consultation.
"I'd love to see the Ballarat community becoming a leader and what projects like this demonstrate is that we are getting there."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.