A highly-successful businessman holds high hopes the Hunter Valley becomes as recognisable for its renewables as it is for its coal sector.
While the region boasts an abundance of mines and power stations, Dr Jerry Schwartz continues to buck the trend.
And, his crusade to provide a more sustainable energy source in the area could pay massive dividends… for everyone.
In 2019, Australia’s largest private hotel owner unveiled a 5MW capacity solar farm at Lovedale, near Cessnock, which comprises 13,350 panels on a property he owns adjacent to his beloved Crowne Plaza.
The $9 million project also delivered a CO2 reduction of approximately 7,811,000kg per annum – equivalent to removing more than 4,3000 vehicles annually from the road.
Now, Dr Schwartz is set to repeat the dose.
“Solar farm No 1, along Wills Hill Road, has been operating for the past year,” he said.
“At its maximum production, it’s supplying 5MW per day.
“Of that, Crowne Plaza uses 1MW daily.
“So, it’s producing enough power for five hotels during the day.
“The energy generated contributes to the requirements of the Crowne Plaza, Hunter Valley Conference & Events Centre and Sydney Brewery, all located on the Lovedale site.
“We then put that additional power into the grid – and it goes to my other hotels across NSW.
“I’ve also bought the land on the opposite side of Wills Hill Road, with the aim of setting up solar farm No 2 there.”
Dr Schwartz said the application for the second facility was lodged in 2019, however not approved until late 2021.
“It took two years to get through,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“But, it’s for another 5MW.
“The real beauty of it is that the maximum you can put into a particular distribution point of Energy Australia is 5MW.
“So, it’s different to solar farm No 1.
“One will go to the Cessnock district; the other to another region.
“That will provide 10MW all up.
“There are a few things to still sort out… but it’s happening.
“The cost is virtually the same, however the technology will be better.
“Our reliability on coal’s waning, while solar’s increasing.”
Dr Schwartz is the largest hotel and tourism investor in the region, with three hotels in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, as well as a winery, Sydney Brewery, Hunter Valley Conference & Events Centre, and the heritage-listed Newcastle Post Office, which is currently undergoing restoration.
And, he’s been at the forefront of change.
Six years ago, a large bank of solar panels was installed on the roof of the Crowne Plaza, spelling out “Lovedale”.
The 99.58kWp plant produced a CO2/greenhouse gas reduction of 164,384kg per annum.
The installation was part of an integrated environmental project that also included the development of a “co-generation” facility.
It involved the simultaneous production of two forms of energy – electricity and heat, from a single fuel source (gas), which is used by the Crowne Plaza in its daily operations.
The waste heat produced in the co-generation process is then used to create hot water and heating in the hotel, as well as heating the large swimming pool, production of potable water and use in the Lovedale Brewery production process.
Dr Schwartz said environmental and sustainability best-practice needed to be at the heart of all hotels’ operations.
“It is particularly important to showcase renewable energy in the heart of a region still known for its [coal] mining,” he explained.
“Tourism is the sustainable industry of the future for the Hunter Valley.
“To make the hotel, convention centre and brewery 100% renewable is a vital initiative.
“The opening of the Hunter Valley Conference & Events Centre in 2015 means that, at times, we have more than 1,000 people across the venue.
“So, the installation of the solar panels across the property and the building of the new solar farm was an ideal solution to meeting our energy needs while minimising our environmental impact.”