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CQ island resort transforms with $1m solar investment

POWERING UP: Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort now makes 1300 kilowatts of power from its 475 solar panels.
POWERING UP: Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort now makes 1300 kilowatts of power from its 475 solar panels. Tegan Annett

A MORE than $1 million investment has been "worth its weight in gold" for a Great Barrier Reef island resort that's leading the charge in renewable power.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is on track to being 100% renewable powered, recently adding 42 solar panels to its current supply.

General manager Peter Gash, below, said they were 80% powered by solar power since a gradual transition since 2008.

He said their 475 solar panels, which generate 1300 kilowatts of power, makes them among the larger privately-owned solar panel systems in Australia.

"Yet we get cranky at ourselves and wish we could go faster, but in 2008, we burnt 550 litres of diesel per day, 200,000 litres of diesel per year cost us a $1 a kilowatt hour to make power," Mr Gash said.

"Since then we've evolved at 475 panels and burning about 70 litres per day and our power is costing us less than 20 cents per kilowatt hour."

Describing it as a "remarkable" move, and the best thing they have ever done, Mr Gash said they're on track to being entirely powered by renewable sources in three years.

"In a total of 12 years we would have gone from such a massive draw of power to almost 100% sourced by renewable energy, it makes me struggle to understand why governments can't do something similar," he said.

He estimates about $1 million has been spent on their solar power investment, but he said as a result they've saved $2 million.

Their first venture into solar in 2008 was with a system worth $600,000 that would save the company $200,000 in power bills.

"It's a transition; we watch it, see how it's all working, and then we take another step," he said.

"One of the big advantages is that we're educating and inspiring others too."

Nine years on, Mr Gash said their 457 solar panels and structure are worth more than $1 million.

Next on the cards is investment in wind power to take advantage of the windy nights on the Southern Great Barrier Reef island.

Mr Gash said wind power could be the solution to the island not having access to renewable energy at night. Currently they run a diesel generator once a week and use battery power to supply the extra 20% needed.

Mr Gash said their "great transition" did not cause any job losses, with workers who once operated their diesel power station, now upgrading and maintaining the solar structures.

"There's an awful lot of politics involved (in the energy debate), we need to be satisfied that no matter what sort of weather pattern comes along, we need to be able to provide our guests with power," Mr Gash said.

"Thus far we have done that, we have sufficient redundancy, which is our generators which are always on standby."

In 2004 Mr Gash first realised the toll that climate change had, with coral bleaching tarring the Great Barrier Reef.

The following year Mr Gash and his wife Amy secured the 30-year lease for Lady Elliot Island Eco Tourism Resort with the aim of transitioning to renewable power.

"We're going to hand it on to future generations in a better condition than how we found it, that's our goal," he said.



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