Community-owned energy projects are a beacon of hope as the nation struggles to address climate change. The trailblazing Hepburn Wind farm set the bar when it comes to community-owned energy projects in Australia. And many more projects are on the drawing board.
A new organisation known as the Community Power Agency was launched this week to support Australia’s rapidly developing community-energy sector.
“Australia’s community-owned renewable energy sector is growing exponentially,” said Community Power Agency co-founder, Nicky Ison. “In 2009 there were three community-energy projects underway. In 2013, there are now around 40 in development across the country.”
The Community Power Agency will provide much needed sector-wide advocacy and support.
“While community energy is growing quickly, and many communities are excited to establish renewable energy projects, just like any new sector they will need support if they are going to succeed.”
The Community Power Agency, set up as a social enterprise, provides research and mentoring for community groups.
The Community Power Agency aims to brief federal and state politicians to ensure legislative barriers constraining the sector are removed. It will encourage politicians to establish a Community Energy Fund to help communities get projects off the ground.
Dramatic changes in the energy market and economics of small- and medium-scale power system is driving the emergence of community energy.
“Solar power is getting cheaper year after year, and wind energy is now the cheapest new-build electricity generation in Australia,” said Jarra Hicks. “Communities generating their own electricity is now a real possibility.”
Community-energy projects now operating include the award-winning Hepburn Wind farm in Victoria and the Denmark Community Wind farm in Western Australia, and the race is on as to who will be the first community solar to come on line.
“Community energy is a great opportunity for regional development. They create local jobs in installation, operation and maintenance, as well as an ongoing dividend for the community” Ms Hicks explains. “And in cities, large rooftops are a great asset, community solar projects can put to good use”
Community energy projects do face challenges however. “The biggest challenges are finding the funding to do the feasibility studies to get projects to the point that they are ready for the community to invest in. Connecting in to the electricity grid and selling the power at a fair price is also a barrier faced by many projects” said Ms Ison. “The Community Power Agency is bring groups together to held address these barriers”.
Community Power Agency founders Nicky Ison and Jarra Hicks have visited and/or worked with more than forty community energy projects in Australia, the UK, Germany and the US. The duo have experience with
solar, wind, biogas and small-hydro developments.