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Bright sparks: How Outback light show gives people the power in their hands

In a tiny community about halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs, a shiny new solar grid brings both joy and power to residents.

Jun 06, 2024, updated Jun 06, 2024
A supplied image obtained on Thursday, June 6, 2024, of Residents of Marlinja with their newly-installed solar power microgrid, Marlinja, Northern Territory. (AAP Image/Supplied by Original Power, Rachel Mounsey)

A supplied image obtained on Thursday, June 6, 2024, of Residents of Marlinja with their newly-installed solar power microgrid, Marlinja, Northern Territory. (AAP Image/Supplied by Original Power, Rachel Mounsey)

It is Australia’s first Indigenous-owned solar micro-grid, five years in the making for the remote Marlinja community.

Resident Chantelle Johns said the community of about 50 people has struggled with blackouts and disconnections for years.

“Just last week we had two blackouts,” she told AAP on Tuesday.

“When we black out we lose our water … so having solar means we’ll be able to keep water on all the time.”

Ms Johns, who is a community organiser with renewable energy project developer Original Power, said high energy costs have also been a problem for residents.

Marlinja is currently on a mandated system of prepaid energy metering, where residents must top up credit at the local shop using a card, which is then swiped on their meter at home to access electricity.

“At the moment we can be averaging anywhere from $50 to $200 a week,” Ms Johns said.

“(Having solar) will help family members to save money or to be able to use the money they would spend on power every week to put extra towards food.”

The micro-grid has a 100-kilowatt solar array and 136 kilowatt-hour battery, which Ms Johns said will be plenty for the whole community.

Marlinja resident Ethan Godrey said the community is proud of their new micro-grid, which will make a world of difference for residents.

“Every time we get disconnected, the whole community is in blackout and we could stay (blacked out) for nearly a week,” he said.

“Having this micro-grid is really good for us.

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“It’s free, and solar is giving us energy from the sun.”

The community initially wanted to put solar panels on each of the homes in Marlinja, but NT social housing policy prevented that.

Original Power’s Lauren Mellor said the policy constraint is just one of the barriers preventing remote communities from installing clean energy options.

She said infrastructure is also an issue, with conservative limits on how much solar can be connected through the Territory’s remote power stations.

“It’s a testament to just how many roadblocks there are in the way of community-owned energy,” Ms Mellor said.

“We really believe that supporting communities to find their own energy solutions through low-cost renewables should be a priority of local, Northern Territory and federal governments.”

Now their microgrid has been launched, Marlinja community members say they hope it will inspire others to develop their own clean energy solutions.

“We’ve fought for years to get it where it is now but if any other communities want to do it, they can do it,” Ms Johns said.

“Nothing is off limits.”

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