Armidale’s Business of the Year is also one of its youngest: family-run solar farm constructor Meralli Projects.
"We’re surprised, honoured, and grateful for the consideration of the independent judges that we were worthy," executive directors David Mailler and Dr Methuen Morgan said.
The company was also named Armidale’s Start-up Superstar.
Meralli Projects was set up last year when Mr Mailler’s brother, an electrical engineer, approached them about installing Australia’s first privately funded solar farm: the award-winning Chillamurra, at Boggabilla.
They also project-managed Dunblane (in Barcaldine, Queensland) – then the largest solar farm of its type in the world.
“We changed the face of renewable projects not only in Australia, but globally,” Mr Mailler said.
"We were the first to do it in Australia, and we continue to set benchmarks in terms of commercial solar."
"From a construction cost perspective," Dr Morgan said, "we have the quickest, the cheapest, and the most cost-effective generation – and the safest workplace health and safety system in Australia today."
Dr Morgan is a psychology lecturer at UNE. Mr Mailler, a Uralla farmer, studied a Bachelor of Sustainability there, keen on finding a more cost-effective energy alternative after years of drought and rising energy prices.
We were honoured to be selected as the winner of the Start Up Super Star category & as Business of the Year at the 2018 Armidale Regional Business Awards. It was a great night, thank you to the Armidale Business Chamber. And thank you for supporting us. https://t.co/L1ghcKqBP5pic.twitter.com/ClwaQxzKbx— Meralli Solar (@MeralliSolar) August 12, 2018
“We spent from 2012 to 2016 having a coffee every week,” Mr Mailler said, “talking about things we're passionate about – sustainability, renewables, climate change, and agricultural socio-economic development.”
Installing solar power, they believe, can rejuvenate rural and regional communities, create business opportunities and jobs, and empower young people.
“We're passionate about regional Australia and rural communities - and we want to make difference in both the renewable and the social space,” Dr Morgan said.
Next month, they will build a solar farm between Moree and Collarenebri. More will follow: near Mildura; at Boggabilla; and in Western Australia.
Some are "behind the pole" projects, like a feedlot in Queensland that wants to generate all its power needs, rather than buying it solely from the grid.
"There's plenty of opportunities for regional Australia to engage in renewables and a distributed network," Mr Mailler said.
"What we've done in our business is put commercial solar retailing and generation squarely on the table."
The projects are in a distributed network – a decentralised electricity system using local solar plants – built without government grants. Local farmers who invest in the network can earn a passive income from generating electricity.
"It's gone mainstream," Dr Morgan said. "Despite some of the political rhetoric, the reality of it is the lid is off this genie bottle, and it's not going back in.
“Renewable energy is commercial, and it's only going to go from strength to strength."