THE completion of a shiny new solar panel cover over the Chinchilla RSL car park has signalled a huge change in fortunes for the establishment, which has returned after a tough few years to a strong financial position.

Only five years ago the club was struggling under more than $1 million of debt as it battled through a local economic downturn, brought on by drought and a temporary decline in the region’s resource industry activity.

Covid, too, has been a big obstacle, and was also a blow to morale when the pandemic forced formal Anzac Day commemorations to be cancelled last year.

But Chinchilla RSL Memorial Club president Nick King said in 2021, the committee was already succeeding in its mission to rebuild and continue as a central community hub and social establishment.

“It was really important that the club survived and there’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point,” Mr King said.

“Now that we’re going well, we’re in a position where we can starting giving back to the community. We want to keep making a contribution.

“Now it’s about reinvesting into the membership, the facility and the community.”

Away from the venue, the club has resumed its longstanding sponsorship of junior sport, while at the venue there are several initiatives underway to realise what the club sees as its huge potential.

Chinchilla RSL Sub Branch president Murray Travis, manager Jennifer Pohlmann and Memorial Club president Nick King.

As well as revamping its entertainment, bistro and family-friendly offerings, the $200,000 solar power investment aims to deliver significant overhead savings in the long term.

“Our monthly power bill can sometimes be as high as $12,000 before we even sell a beer. It’s our biggest ongoing expense after wages,” Mr King said.

“With the advances in solar, the previous committee decided to look into the idea and it made sense. It’s offsetting 30 percent of our overall energy consumption and it gives us a 15 percent monetary saving.

“There’s obviously the environmental advantage as well, which is big part of business considerations these days. Taking those environmental impacts out of your business is a benefit for everyone.”

The solar panel carpark now erected in the RSL car park is understood to be the first of its kind in the Western Downs and part of an increasingly popular style of solar panel installation in cities and larger centres.

It was designed by local engineering firm Brandon & Associates, which has offices in Toowoomba, Roma and Chinchilla, and built by local electrical business MPC Contracting.

Brandon & Associates director Ray Hicks with MPC Contracting directors Ros McQuaid and Luke Scarlett.

“There’s a lot more of this sort of work happening and this is the sort of market we like to target – businesses that have large car parking spaces,” MPC’s Luke Scarlett said.

“We know of a couple of businesses in Toowoomba that have done this but we don’t know of too many in this region. We think it’s a big opportunity.

“It was a bit of a learning curve for us, but once we had the design in place it was pretty straight forward.”

Ross McQuaid from MPC added: “People are definitely starting to see the potential returns on the investment. Over time reducing power bills obviously goes a long way.” 

Ray Hicks from Brandon & Associates said a significant saving was made on the RSL’s 100kW system by installing the solar panels themselves as the car parking shade cover, rather than mounting the panels onto separate roofing sheets.

“When it rains it doesn’t quite have full cover. There’s a few drips in between, but it does give you good shade,” Mr Hicks said.

“And because it’s cheaper, this design will probably become more and more popular.

“There’s increasing interest in solar panels and we’re assessing a lot of roofs for commercial businesses. We did 28 sites at Thargomindah and some of those were nearly as big as this.” 

Whilst disruptions from Covid continue, the club is open and trading as normal with a Covid Management Plan in place to ensure the safety of staff and customers.

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