Across the state, volunteers are helping their communities transition towards a fairer and more sustainable energy system as the Parliamentary inquiry into the benefits of community energy projects gets underway.
Woodend Integrated Sustainable Energy (WISE) in the Macedon Ranges is one example of a community that has already created successful renewable energy projects through innovative use of community-funds and public grants.
With close ties to the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group (MRSG), WISE emerged in 2009 as four core members banded together to promote community renewable energy projects in their region.
Since the group’s creation, volunteers have led a number of projects benefiting the economic, social and environmental facets of the Macedon Ranges region. Their energy portfolio includes a combination of both solar PV and wind projects.
Revenue from these community energy projects is placed in the Macedon Ranges Renewable Energy Fund (MRREF), a revolving fund designed to support future community energy projects. Examples include:
- A 40 kW solar array at the Black Forest Timber Mill in Woodend built with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Victorian State Government. The system now supplies solar power to the mill’s tenants who benefit from a 5% discount on their electricity bill, retailed by the sustainability group.
- A 6 kW solar PV system for the Woodend cricket and football clubs, for which the group provides an interest free loan.
- A 10kW solar PV system installed at St Lukes Anglicare community building, managed pro bono by MRSG;
- An 8kW battery ready solar PV system at the Woodend Tennis Club, managed pro bono by MRSG
- A 1 kW wind turbine installed at a local school with educational intentions, managed pro bono by MRSG.
- A wind project consisting of three to five 3 MW turbines, which would generate enough power for several thousand households. A wind monitoring mast is currently collecting data to assess the project’s commercial viability.
The success of these projects results from the group’s active engagement with the community. This has been achieved through the yearly Macedon Ranges Sustainable Living Festival and Ride for Renewables, monthly Farmers markets and consultations via online surveys and every day interactions with the close-knit community.
These community energy projects also benefited from the support of a range of stakeholders spanning the state government (Sustainability Victoria), the renewable energy industry (Hepburn Wind, Epuron, Senvion, DNV-GL, etc.) and environmental groups (Embark, Friends of the Earth), through the provision of grants, equipment, as well as pro bono work and advice from legal firms (Corrs, DLA).
With the Victorian Parliament inquiry into community energy underway, it’s important to highlight that despite many hardships, communities are leading the way with diverse renewable energy projects. Barry Mann, Project Manager of WISE told Yes2Renewables:
For a long time, the political climate was difficult. In particular, when the Baillieu government’s VC82 suite of laws established ‘no-go zones’ for wind energy projects in the region. This effectively banned our wind project for four years.
Mr Mann suggests investing in local renewable energy hubs and jobs as a way for communities to fully take advantage of the clean energy transition. He is in favour of growing the sector by using a variety of financial mechanisms that will enable communities to build more projects, such as feed-in tarriffs, green bonds and tax incentives.
All of us in the group have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on getting these projects up and running. This is all spare time, annual leave, wherever we could find it. This is not sustainable, and we are all getting a bit tired, but look at what we were able to achieve on a volunteer basis. Imagine what we could achieve if we were being paid for it!
One of the issues MRSG now faces is how the government defines a “community energy project”. Communities are calling for transparency on what defines a community energy project.
Local MP Mary-Anne Thomas has been supportive of the groups efforts to establish local renewable energy projects as part of the Andrews Government’s ambitious and achievable Victorian Renewable Energy Targets of 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025.
— Mary-Anne Thomas MP (@MaryAnneThomas) September 14, 2016
There are a number of policy mechanisms that can be used to grow the community energy sector. The Parliamentary Inquiry into community energy projects is now taking submissions and provides an opportunity for community groups and supporters of CORE projects to have their say on the future of community energy in Victoria.
Yes2Renewables is calling on the inquiry to endorse the following measures to grow community energy in Victoria:
- Commit to an ambitious number of community energy projects
- Support community energy projects with a financial mechanism as part of the Victorian Renewable Energy Target
- Re-establish Sustainability Victoria as the community energy support agency in collaboration with developing Community Powerhouses
Community groups across Victoria like WISE are paving the way for innovative renewable energy projects. By endorsing these measures, the Victorian Parliament can send a strong signal to the government that there is strong support for growing community energy within the state.
The volunteer hours put in by groups like MRSG to establish community energy projects show communities across the state are ready to smash Victoria’s Renewable Energy Targets (VRET). Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and Shadow Renewable Energy Minister David Southwick can match the community with bipartisan support for the VRET.
- Make a submission to the Victorian Parliament’s inquiry into community-owned renewable energy. Get in quick, submissions close on September 29!
- Email opposition leader Matthew Guy to call on the Victorian Liberal party to back the VRET. The transition to renewables ought to be a above party politics.