Victorian communities charge forward with clean energy


27 February 2020

Across Victoria, communities are coming together with ideas and acting on climate change. From solar-powered childcare centres and sports grounds to community-owned wind and solar farms, councils and community groups are finding ways to reduce their own emissions footprint.

The potential for regional areas to be self-powered by clean energy is growing as the cost of renewables technology lowers and the price of coal-generated electricity rises.

Watch the video below to see how ordinary Victorians are banding together to support renewable energy projects for the benefit of their local area – and leading the way with new innovations, tailored to the needs and future ambitions of their communities.

Energy projects for communities, by communities

Many Victorians want greater control over their energy and costs as well as minimising their climate change impact. Community energy projects are based on the idea that the end users of power – the everyday consumer – should be empowered over how energy is generated and supplied and stand to benefit from the process.

Community energy projects are commonly delivered by community energy groups or not for profit organisations, often in a specific geographic area. Every project is different and tailored to maximise local ownership, participation, benefit sharing and potential job generation.

This grass-roots approach to energy production is already making a big difference in towns and cities across Victoria.

In Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley region, community energy projects are delivered by Community Power Hubs – specially-developed not for profit organisations which bring communities together in Victoria’s major regional centres to coordinate the expansion of community energy in the area. The three hubs were developed under a pilot program funded by the Victorian Government and work with communities to develop funding-ready projects to be supported by community, government or private investors.

A 31-kilowatt solar system was installed on the Eaglehawk Badminton and Table Tennis Stadium with the support of the Community Power Hub Bendigo, after the community raised $30,000 to fund the upgrade.

“Community energy has shown members of the Bendigo community what is possible and how they can support, benefit from and participate in renewable energy,” says Chris Corr of the Community Power Hub Bendigo and the Bendigo Sustainability Group.

“Solar powering the Eaglehawk Badminton and Table Tennis Stadium is set to save the Bendigo and District Table Tennis Association about $3000 a year – one third of the annual power bill. It could be the first of many Bendigo sports clubs to save money from solar power, funded through community investment.

 Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, and Member for Bendigo West, Maree Edwards, officially launched the Eaglehawk Badminton and Table Tennis Stadium solar project in 2019.

“The local community is leading the way by embracing a smarter way of generating power, and seeing the benefits first-hand,” Corr said.

Community Power Hub Bendigo is building on this approach by looking for ‘roof hosts’ for future community-owned renewable energy systems, such as solar panels. Members from the local community will fund (as well as own, operate and benefit from) the solar system for a term of up to around 10 years.  At the end of the contract, the solar system is gifted to the roof host at no cost and they benefit for the remaining life of the asset.

"This is a win-win where the hosts get cheaper power and money stays within the local community. Local jobs are created and carbon emissions are avoided from renewable energy generation," Corr said.

In Victoria's remote high country, Licola Wilderness Village made national headlines in December 2019 when it became the first Victorian town to go completely off grid with solar energy and battery storage.

The abandoned sawmill town converted into a recreational camping village for disadvantaged students by The Lions Club is located 50 kilometres from the nearest electricity grid – the only Victorian town not connected to the mains electricity grid. The town was previously powered by diesel generators costing more than $100,000 per year.

With the support of Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub, Licola installed 600 solar panels (and storage batteries) to produce its own power, reducing energy production costs and carbon emissions by 90 per cent.

A whole-of-community approach

Anyone interested in local energy projects – including residents, community organisations, local governments, renewable energy developers, businesses, schools and state government departments and agencies – can get involved in community-based energy projects. Broad participation ensures projects meet the needs of all and that benefits are shared.

The Hepburn Shire community in northern Victoria has taken local energy to the next level, and has embraced a whole-of-community approach to energy production as the first community in Australia to have a plan to transition to zero-net emissions by 2030.

The shire is home to Australia's first community-owned wind farm near Daylesford, operated by Hepburn Wind. The 4.1 megawatt wind farm produces enough clean energy for over 2000 homes.

This community’s achievements will help others become carbon neutral in future, by providing a blueprint for a whole-of-community transition to zero net emissions.

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