Driving the energy revolution from the bottom up: observations from the 2017 Community Energy Congress, by Julie Chater

What do you get when 600 people from all over Australia meet to discuss hundreds of innovative community energy projects? Enough emissions free energy to power the country!

The second Community Energy Congress, held at Melbourne Town Hall from 27 to 28 February 2017, demonstrated the enthusiasm of communities, situated far and wide across Australia, to reduce carbon emissions. Organised by the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE) it showcased the extensive range of projects being undertaken, from the early planning stages to completed projects, in solar and wind, bulk renewable energy purchasing programs, and more. It provided the opportunity for community groups to learn from each other so that future projects can be established faster and more efficiently. The main points for me were:

  • The importance of local and state government support for community emissions-reduction projects. It is not surprising that sub-national governments have taken the lead to fill the vacuum at the federal level. These governments are on the front line in responding to drought, floods, health impacts, threatened utilities, coastal erosion and more. They can also see the benefit of local jobs, investment and community development which can flow from these initiatives.
  • The large range of community projects underway. On the solar side these include: multiple household hosts for rooftop solar; commercial scale rooftop solar; mid to large individual solar sites; investment-based and donor-based models; variety of financing models- lease, loan and Power Purchase Agreements; bulk purchasing schemes. There are also models for community solar thermal power stations and windfarms. This Community Solar Projects Decision Guide provides an excellent diagrammatic representation of the variety of community projects.
  • Some examples of projects up and running include: Enova, based in northern NSW, Australia’s first community-owned energy retailer; Denmark Community Wind Farm, near Albany WA, a 1.6 MW project with 116 shareholders; the Hub Foundation’s More Australian Solar Homes (MASH) project which has installed over 650 solar rooftops in Central Victoria; Embark and its ClearSky Solar Investments, a social enterprise which links community investors with high quality solar projects; Sydney Renewable Power Company; Hepburn Community Solar Farm in Victoria; and Repower Shoalhaven. And let us not forget Canberra’s own community solar farm, SolarShare, which is currently being negotiated with the ACT government.
  • It is apparent that there are now sufficient community energy success stories for templates to be produced to assist the rapid duplication of projects. The Frontier Impact Group launched a free Toolkit to make it simpler for groups to secure funding, and understand the various financial model options available. The toolkit comprises two guidebooks – the Funding Basics Guidebook and a Behind the Meter Solar PV guidebook. The Sustainability Law Lab was announced as a new project of the legal team at Environmental Justice Australia. It aims to kick start new community driven sustainability projects by developing legal frameworks for community business models and providing other legal services.
  • Volunteerism is at the heart of the community energy sector but there is evidence of it also being a new area of socially responsible employment which will be especially welcome in rural and remote communities.
  • Register today to be and investor in Canberra’s community solar farm. FAQs and registration details can be found here.