Background to community energy in the ACT

From the time the ACT government began to introduce policies, legislation and incentives to tackle climate change from electricity generation some community members began to discuss the feasibility of a community-based effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Throughout 2012, SEE-Change and its renewable energy special interest group, Canberra Clean Energy, held workshops, talks, stalls and surveys to gauge community interest in different energy projects, and researched a number of options for community action in the area of clean energy. Following additional feasibility studies and wide consultation with community groups in different areas of the country, Canberra Clean Energy saw a practical way to work towards a community solar farm to be co-owned by members of the local area. The initiative was called SolarShare.

Reacting to this, in 2014 the ACT government enacted amendments to the Electricity Feed-in (Large-scale Renewable Energy Generation) Act 2011 and called for proposals for a one megawatt community solar farm, sufficient to generate enough electricity annually to power 500 Canberra homes. The underlying principle was that a collective of individuals and businesses build a generation facility, assisted by a new feed-in-tariff for community solar projects of up to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years.

This recognised that the benefits of roof-top solar were not available to everyone, due to a lack of affordability, shading, renting, or apartment living. The community scheme would provide the opportunity for individuals to pool their resources to fund large-scale solar projects, achieving economies of scale with the benefits of direct ownership. It would contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, help stimulate community-owned medium/large-scaled solar generators, and help make community-owned solar generation a more accepted part of distributed energy generation.

In the latter half of 2012 SolarShare formalised its governance and team structure to deliver a community-owned solar farm. In July 2014 SolarShare Community Energy Ltd was registered with ASIC. In 2016, $125,000 was raised from 20 investors to provide the seed capital to take the project to build stage.

The ACT Government awarded SolarShare a feed-in-tariff in November 2018 which enabled it to move forward to issue an Offer information Statement to raise the $2.8 million to build the flagship solar farm, a 1MW greenfield project, to be located in the Majura Valley. SolarShare has plans to continue with new community solar projects when the flagship project is built.

From the beginning of this process in 2012, the volunteers worked relentlessly to meet the ACT government’s requirements for access to the feed-in tariff which would enable the building of the ACT’s first community solar farm and ensure that SolarShare Community Energy Ltd would be a financial success for its community investors and become a model upon which other projects could be built.

The SolarShare Team

The SolarShare Team is a dedicated group of around 20 people who have worked on a volunteer basis since 2012 to achieve the building of a community solar farm in the ACT. It comprises a volunteer board of directors and officers, and volunteers with skills in finance, law, communications, risk management, community and government engagement, engineering, planning and business development.

It is a team which has worked harmoniously since the beginning to bring about their dreams. It comprises a balance of women and men, old and young dedicated to action to address climate change through community activity.

A milestone was reached in May this year when SolarShare closed its successful capital raising offer after receiving investments of $2.37 million from over 400 local Canberra residents, supplemented by a loan from local renewable energy developer, CWP Renewables. The team of volunteers, led by Lawrence McIntosh, is now dedicated to the task of meeting all the regulatory requirements and signing the contracts to build its long planned community solar farm. Shares have been issued work is now proceeding to build the solar farm.

400 Canberrans, committed to tackling climate change, have invested between $500 and $100,000 to make this community project possible. It will be Australia’s largest community solar project.