All posts by Juliette Milbank

A local hero and finalists for a sustainability award

Matthew Charles-Jones being videoed by Gerald Wiblin for the Premiers Sustainability Awards
Matthew Charles-Jones being videoed by Gerald Wiblin recently for the Premiers Sustainability Awards

With the intensity of pandemic restrictions, home schooling and the chaos of border closure effects, a couple of achievements almost slipped by unnoticed. TRY’s Chairperson, cofounder and long-time renewable energy advocate, Matthew Charles-Jones, was nominated and short-listed for the Victorian section of the Australia Day Awards in the Local Hero category.

Taken by surprise (he doesn’t know who nominated him), Matt was self-effacing about the honour, claiming it as recognition for TRY and the Yackandandah community’s determined efforts to reach the 100% renewable goal. But he was very touched that someone thought he was worthy of nomination.

He didn’t win but was chuffed to have been part of it. The other nominees were of very high calibre with Dr Kirby White, founder of Gowns for Doctors, taking out the Victorian 2021 Local Hero honours on the 27 October.

Premiers Sustainability award

And we were very excited today to find out that we’ve been announced as a finalist in the Community category of the Premier’s Sustainability Awards 2020 for our public Virtual Power Plant. The VPP was finally launched last year after at least three years of diligent and dogged work with multiple community organisations, Indigo Shire and the CFA.

Yack’s VPP is a network of publicly owned buildings across the area that generate, store and share electricity – ten buildings had solar systems installed and three of them, the Yack Public Hall, Sports Park and the CFA station also had batteries installed.

The project saw the installation of 74 kW of solar across TRY’s footprint, generating an extra 104 MWh of clean energy, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 88 tonnes CO2 per year. They provide the core for a robust, localised, low-carbon and resilient electricity supply, and we’ve got more installations on the way.

It’s an exciting project which is already saving community groups operation costs (although due to pandemic restrictions we don’t yet know how much as many buildings have been closed) and will provide extra resilience during emergencies to organisations that have batteries, such as the CFA.

We feel incredibly honoured to be included in the awards this year, especially when you look at the calibre of the other finalists. There were a record number of entries. You can check out TRY’s nomination and the other amazing finalists here.

Our heartfelt thanks go to our partners and sponsors for the VPP:

  • Sponsors: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Indigo Shire Council, Into Our Hands foundation, Yackandandah Folk Festival, and YCDCo.
  • Public buildings and hall committees: Yackandandah Health, Yackandandah Public Hall, Yackandandah Museum, Osbornes Flat Hall, Bruarong Hall, Wooragee Hall, Yackandandah Sports Park, Yackandandah CFA, Indigo Valley CFA, and the Masonic Hall.
TRY members looking happy at the Yack Public Hall
TRY members were chuffed to find out we’ve been shortlisted for the Premiers Sustainability Awards in the Community category. Photos: Juliette Milbank

2020 AGM Round Up

TRY members attend the 2020 AGM in typical pandemic style

TRY’s Annual General Meeting was held on the 21 October via an online forum, as was appropriate for the strange year that 2020 has been. It was kept short and focussed to avoid the Zoom fatigue that we are all feeling after 6 months of pandemic restrictions and set a TRY meeting record by finishing in an hour!

Matthew Charles-Jones, the outgoing Chairperson, gave a summary of TRY’s achievements and activities around the new tax deductible (DGR) status, Indigo Power’s impressive progress, the federally funded feasiblity study into the path to 100%, and the soon-to-be completed community-scale battery, Yack 01. The financial statements were then tabled and accepted with Treasurer Bernard Wilson giving a brief rundown of financial activities.

All executive positions were declared vacant, new nominees elected, and the new President, Juliette Milbank, wrapped up the meeting with a thank you to the dedicated work put in by the committee members and the fantastic support of the broader Yackandandah community.

She acknowledged the pivotal and dedicated work by Matt Grogan, Ben McGowan and Ali Pockley, who all stepped down from the committee recently due to increasing responsibilities with Indigo Power and other community groups. Thanks also go to Denis Ginnivan who chose not to stand for the Vice President position again but who remains on the committee to provide us with his wisdom and enthusiasm for all things community.

TRY has also recently welcomed three new members to the committee, with Chris Glanville, James Jenkins and Ben Haslett joining and bringing fresh ideas and enthusiasm to help out in the areas of the DGR subcommittee, projects and general support, along with Simone Engdahl who joined earlier in the year.

As 2022 starts to loom on our horizon, and with several very exciting projects underway or about to be completed, we look forward to 2021 bringing us ever closer to our goal: 100% renewable energy and increased resilience for the community of Yackandandah!

TRY Committee for 2021

President
Juliette Milbank

Secretary/Public Officer
Kim McConchie

 

Vice President
Matthew Charles-Jones

Treasurer
Bernard Wilson

General Committee
Denis Ginnivan, Donna Jones, Neil Padbury, Ron Boulton, Ben Gilbert, Simone Engdahl, Chris Glanville, James Jenkins, Ben Haslett

A Local Power Plan for the regions

TRY has been one of many community groups contributing to a detailed plan for bringing renewable energy benefits to regional and rural areas. The article below appeared in the October/November edition of Yackandandah’s bi-monthly paper, Yackity Yak.Local Power Plan logo

A few months ago in June I described how TRY and other local community energy stakeholders were participating in a community energy co-design process with the office of Dr Helen Haines MP. Over 8 weeks Dr Haines engaged with hundreds of people and received 99 submissions from all over Australia and all types of people and organisations, including farmers, investors, health organisations, training providers and community energy groups.

The purpose of the process was to ensure that regional Australia drives and benefits from the coming boom in renewable energy. As more large-scale solar and wind farms, and eventually storage facilities such as batteries and pumped hydro, pop up around the country, how do we make sure that regional Australia participates in the benefits that flow from them?

And when extreme weather events and bushfire disasters more frequently disrupt power supplies, as they did in Corryong and Walwa last summer, how can we make our towns and regions more resilient? How do we ensure that large (and small) projects are not done to the regions, but with the regions? These were the underlying questions that occupied the expert panel and the many submissions that Dr Haines received.

Over the last 6 years TRY has experienced many of the challenges and benefits of undertaking a 100% renewable energy transition and we are uniquely placed to identify things that would improve and accelerate the journey. We’re proud of our efforts and achievements that show the benefits and possibilities of a renewable energy transformation.

We participated in the consultation process, helping to formulate the discussion paper, and also made our own submission. It and the other 98 submissions were incorporated into the discussion paper and have become the Local Power Plan, a roadmap of initiatives to involve, benefit and empower local communities via renewable energy projects. The Plan suggests different levels of policy that will facilitate community and commercial projects and provide incentives for investment, regional development and resilience.

A screenshot from a Zoom session with TRY members
TRY participated in several Zoom sessions over five months, helping to formulate the discussion paper and giving feedback on successive drafts. Image: Juliette Milbank

Dr Haines commented that “for everyday people in regional Australia, if we do renewables right, it means lower bills, stronger energy security, and new jobs and industries”. Along with reducing emissions, this is what TRY has been working towards since we started our journey, with a focus on making sure that initiatives benefit all levels of the community, not just those that can afford to make changes. It’s about equity, resilience and community.

The Local Power Plan is now complete and was launched online on the 23 September as well as being presented to the energy minister, Angus Taylor MP – you can look at the final version here.

We’re incredibly proud to have been part of this process and we and many others will be watching to see what happens. In the mean time we continue working on a 100% renewable transition for our town, making local power a reality.

                                                                                                                                            –– Juliette Milbank

Supersizing a community battery

TRY and Indigo Power were on the PRIME7 News with the announcement of grant funding from the Victorian Government for our first community-scale battery storage facility, Yack01.

Image of the PRIME7 News video

We were very excited to learn on Wednesday that we had been successful with our application for $171,000 from the Victorian government’s New Energy Jobs Fund. TRY and Indigo Power have been hard at work since mid-2019 raising around $250,000 to bring a 136 kWh storage battery to fruition, but with the announcement of the additional funding the battery can now be increased to 274 kWh.

The storage battery facility (named Yack01 in anticipation of much more storage to come!) will be one of the first of its kind in Australia and will be installed alongside 70 kW of solar panels that are also part of the project. It will enable solar energy generated during the day to be stored and then used by Indigo Power customers during the evening. The larger battery will enable it to power up to 40 average-size households overnight.

Yack01 will be located at the property of Ben Gilbert’s Agency of Sculpture business, which is the site of the old Yackandandah sawmill and has a necessary transformer already on site. The battery is situated ‘behind the meter’ but will sell electricity into the National Electricity Market (NEM) for use by local residents. 

The tracking and sharing of local energy is made possible by an energy-sharing widget developed by Mondo (a subsidiary of AusNet Services) so that Indigo Power customers with this device form a mini-grid.

The state government funding is a vital step to getting the town of Yackandandah to reach its 100% renewable energy target. We know that we not only need more renewable energy generation, but we also need storage to ensure the community has access to clean energy at all times. The Yack01 battery is a small but crucial step in the 5-stage road map to reach our target, and is the precursor to the masterplan for community-scale storage and generation being developed by our federally funded feasibility study.

We are stoked that the extra funding has allowed us to increase the battery size and really looking forward to some community-scale storage coming online in the next few months!

The TRY logo

  

The Indigo Power logo

2020 Annual General Meeting

Matt Grogan, former TRY Chairperson, gives his parting speech at the 2019 AGM. Photo: Ben Gilbert

The 2020 TRY Inc. AGM will be held on
Wednesday, October 21st, at 7.30pm

[Edit: The AGM Agenda is available here]

This will be an on-line meeting, via Zoom, in line with the current COVID-19 restrictions on public meetings.

All members of TRY Inc are invited to attend, and anyone wishing to become members will be welcome to join the meeting.

The positions of President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary/Public Officer will be declared vacant, and a vote will be taken to fill those positions for the next 12 months.

If you wish to nominate a person for one of these positions, and/or are unable to join the meeting but wish to vote by proxy, please use the following forms to participate:

Nomination Form                         Proxy Form

These should be completed and emailed to [email protected] by October 19.

PLEASE NOTE: in order to co-ordinate the meeting, an RSVP is required in all instances by email to [email protected] The link to the meeting, along with an agenda, will be provided by return email.

It is anticipated this meeting will conclude at 9.00 pm. If you have not used Zoom for online meetings previously, and need help to set up the meeting on your computer or phone, please let us know and we will endeavour to help.

Please send RSVPs, forms and any enquiries to TRY Inc by October 19

[email protected]

RACV’s People Power

Matthew Charles-Jones, TRY Chairperson, was recently interviewed for an article on three Victorian community’s efforts to power up in different ways: the communities were Yackandandah, Hepburn Shire, Preston in Melbourne, and two residents outside Mallacoota. You can read the article by clicking on the image or the link below.

Check out the shots of Matt on the roof of the Yack Public Hall with the solar array that was installed as part of the Virtual Power Plant (VPP), one of TRY’s signature projects to install solar and/or batteries on all the public buildings in the town. The final two installations in that project are due to occur later this year.

 

A screenshot of the Royal Auto article
Excerpt of the Royal Auto article showing Shannon Morris’ photo of Taryn Lane in front of one of the Hepburn Wind turbines, just outside Daylesford.

 

Peter Barrett, “People Power: The Victorian communities generating their own energy”, Royal Auto, 22 June 2020, <https://www.racv.com.au/royalauto/living/victorian-sustainability/community-power-projects-victoria.html>.

 

Looking at reliability

TRY’s chair Matt Charles-Jones was a guest on ABC Radio Melbourne’s The Conversation Hour yesterday, discussing grid reliability and energy options with Warwick Long. He appeared alongside Tony Wood (Grattan Institute) and Simon Holmes à Court (a senior advisor to the Climate and Energy College at Melbourne University and on the board of the Smart Energy Council).

A man giving a presentation
Matthew Charles-Jones talking at a workshop in Benalla in 2018. Photo: TRY

This episode of The Conversation Hour was prompted by the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO’s) call for investment in the energy grid to stay reliable and avoid major blackouts, amid the increasing stresses of changing climate on both the grid and some industries.

Matt discussed TRY’s plans to rethink the way a community gets its energy, to trade, share and generate electricity locally via Indigo Power and the Ubi smart energy controller, as well as our plan to reach 100% renewable energy by 2022.

Unfortunately, the slot was too short to mention TRY’s current project looking at scaling up energy storage via the recent federal grant from the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund. Over the next 15 months we’ll be investigating both pumped hydro and community-scale battery storage options to help us reach 100%, which is a big part of both reaching that goal and providing reliability both generally and during times of crisis.

You can listen to the episode here (the first ten minutes are taken by a Victorian Pandemic update):

The Conversation Hour, ABC Radio Melbourne, Thursday 25th May

Matt’s portion starts at the 36 minute mark and goes for 5 minutes. But it’s well worth also listening to the portions containing both Tony Wood (starts at the 19 minute mark) and Simon Holmes à Court (41 minute mark), as they bring pragmatic and knowledgeable perspectives to the energy debate.

Community-scale pumped hydro & battery storage

Great excitement today as TRY was successful with a grant application to the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, setting us up for determining the best community-scale generation and storage options to reach our 100% goal!

Two women and two men stand in front of some batteries and inverters holding a golden yak
Helen Haines MP came to Yackandandah today to celebrate our recent grant approval with TRY members, Matthew Charles-Jones, Kim McConchie and Donna Jones. Photo: TRY

We are thrilled to confirm TRY has received just under $350,000 to finalise the scaled generation and storage plans for a sprint toward 100% clean local power. Our project will be investigating the feasibility and best mix of 1-2 MWh of pumped hydro and 3-4 MWh of community-scale battery storage, to work alongside some scaled solar generation, to complement the town’s existing generation and storage capacity.

We are so pleased to be doing this with the massive support of Dr. Helen Haines, Independent Member for Indi. As part of the project we will be working with the good folks of Yackandandah, Mondo and Tamar Hydro Pty Ltd, identifying the best mix of technologies and ways of operating them that will serve Yackandandah’s needs.

Our project has been made possible through the federal government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund through the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. The fund supports studies that look at microgrid technologies to assist grid-challenged communities in regional and remote areas, with a view to supplying more reliable and cost effective energy solutions for those communities.

Onwards to 2022!

Blog: Member profile, Kim McConchie

Kim McConchie is the TRY secretary, has a degree in Applied Science in chemistry, and used to drive one of the very first electric vehicles in the 1980’s, when his employer, Dunlop Batteries, was developing storage batteries for different purposes. With a long career in different industries, he understands the science behind climate change and renewable energy. He’s now retired and lives on 16 acres outside Yack with his wife, two dogs and 7 kW of solar panels that provide most of their needs. Here he gives an insight into his motivations for joining TRY.

Kim McConchie leaning on a gate at his property outside Yackandandah
Kim McConchie at his property outside Yackandandah. Photo: Juliette Milbank

Try. It’s a little word that has big connotations. Try to get motivated to get out of bed in the morning. Try to have a sustaining breakfast for the energy to face another day. Try to face the world without becoming dispirited by the negativity, the confusion, and the absolute rigidity of political thought that our leaders seem to be locked into. Try to face up to a struggle against it all that can be daunting, enraging and frustrating, when it seems that you have no voice. Try to do all this, and that little word can seem an obstacle in itself.

TRY. It’s a little acronym which also has big connotations. It’s an acronym I came across as we prepared to move to Yackandandah late in 2016. Reading up on the town, its community, and the achievements that had been made, raised the feeling of positivity, something that even the thought of packing up and shifting 25 years of stuff and memories couldn’t diminish. And one little line that hooked my interest was the goal to become a 100% renewable energy community. In Melbourne, my wife Chantelle and I had been members of Solar Citizens, joined in events, held banners outside politicians’ offices, and while we did try to be positive, there was a feeling of pushing against a great wall of indifference when it came to achieving tangible outcomes. So the hook was readily taken.

The move was made, the boxes (mostly) unpacked, the neighbours made us feel very welcome. Of course, the discussions quickly turned to why we moved to Yack? We talked about the many positives of the people, the place and the property we had fallen in love with, and I mentioned the push for renewable energy as a factor that had absolutely resonated with me… and with that, our neighbour Neil Padbury said there’s a TRY meeting on next month, I’ll take you to it and you can meet the committee. Which he did, and next month I went again, and haven’t stopped.

It was actually quite daunting looking at the progress that had been made, and the plans to meet the 2022 goal of 100%. And daunting becoming a part of a wholly committed, quite visionary group of volunteers working to meet a renewable ideal to benefit the Yack community in the first instance, but also to ultimately provide inspiration to other communities to be able to set and achieve such lofty goals.

TRY. Try. Two faces of the same coin. Three years on and the TRY progress has been remarkable. The vision is clear and the path to meet the goal well defined. Try and you can succeed is the great story that comes out of this journey, being a part of it has become one of the many positives and a source of motivation that the move to Yack provided. And we always welcome others who also want to try – maybe that’s you?
                                                                                                                                            ––– Kim McConchie

A farm gate with the property name and a yellow yak on it
The TRY golden yak welcomes visitors. Photo: J Milbank
7 kW of solar panels on Kim's shed roof
Kim’s shed hosts 7 kW of solar panels. Photo: J Milbank

Blog: The power to rebuild

Matt Grogan reflects on the challenges and opportunities that face regional communities in the wake of a fiery summer.

Fire burning on hills adjacent to suburban communities
Fire burning over Bears Hill just outside Wodonga in north-east Victoria. Photo: Juliette Milbank

This summer’s devastating bushfires show us once again that regional communities are on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Loss of life and property, ecological devastation, and economic pain are but a few examples. As the fires continue to burn, evidence is mounting that the most remote communities are the most vulnerable. Isolated towns could be without power and clean water for weeks.

Once the rain finally comes and the fires are extinguished, our attention will turn toward rebuilding. We know climate change has driven the severity of these fires. We know climate change means more fire seasons like this one.

We need to support communities to rebuild themselves in a way that makes them more resilient for future catastrophes. What if adapting to climate change provides an opportunity for rural and regional Australia to re-invent itself and curb rural decline?

As affected regions across Australia rebuild, decision makers would do well to look to rural Scotland, where communities have invested in renewable electricity generation assets that have become the cornerstones of thriving local economies. Instead of funnelling money to electricity corporations based in far-off cities, profits remain in the community, and community members have the opportunity to upskill by learning about innovative technologies and investment models.

These skills are then transferred and developed in other pursuits to create thriving, culturally vibrant communities where young people want to stay. Some of the projects in rural Scotland have been distributing profits to communities for more than 20 years.
Community energy is not unique to Scotland – many volunteer groups in Australia work tirelessly to help their communities transition towards a decentralised, de-carbonised and democratised electricity supply. But even the most strident supporters of community energy in Australia would admit that there is a long way to go in most instances before community energy projects meaningfully contribute to baseload power. In Scotland, on the other hand, a co-ordinated and long-term policy developed and maintained by the Scottish government has enabled community-owned energy projects to meet baseload power demands in many rural communities.

Directing a portion of the bushfire recovery money towards community-led, decentralised electricity generation and storage projects is the perfect opportunity to prove that, like Scotland, rural Australians can take control and benefit from providing clean energy to themselves and the rest of the country.

The town of Yackandandah in northeast Victoria is proof that relatively modest contributions from government and philanthropic donations can unlock local investment and keep money within the community. Yackandandah has been working over the past 5 years to transition its electricity supply to 100% renewable. Approximately 60% of the houses in the town have solar panels, and almost every community-owned building does too. In 2015, the local health service and aged care facility installed 130 kW of solar panels on its roof, and by 2035, it will have saved several hundred thousand dollars in power bills. Additionally, Yackandandah’s fire station has a large solar and battery installation, meaning that it can operate in isolation in the event of a power outage.

Yackandandah has received approximately $700,000 in Victorian government grants; philanthropic funding; and donations, which has been matched by household infrastructure investment of over $1.1million. The philanthropic funds have largely been put towards resourcing committed locals to create and facilitate a pathway towards a 100% renewable electricity supply.

The government funding has helped Yackandandah build the physical and commercial infrastructure to enable its electricity supply to become self-reliant. The good news, if there can be any, for communities affected by bushfire, is that the concept has now been proven.

Locally focused electricity infrastructure, supported by community-scale generation and storage mean that remote communities will not need to completely rely on hundreds of kilometres of electricity grid being repaired and checked before the power can be reconnected after a fire. The generation, supply and consumption of electricity can, to a large extent, be contained within a town.

This could be a game changer for remote towns like Corryong and Walwa who are vulnerable to disruption to their electricity supply during natural disasters – when the community most need access to power.

A key part of the localised electricity solution in Yackandandah is Indigo Power. Indigo Power is a community-owned, certified social enterprise that is working with its partners to create community energy hubs – first in Yackandandah and then across the Hume region of Victoria and the Southern Riverina region of New South Wales. Community energy hubs allow electricity retail customers of Indigo Power to pool and share household solar electricity, and then draw from community-owned generation and storage facilities. Indigo Power is working with Yackandandah to install one of Australia’s first community-owned batteries that exports power to the electricity grid for use by locals.

As electricity sharing technology becomes more sophisticated, communities will become more prepared for future disasters. Technology is being developed that allows electricity grid operators to ‘island’ a town’s electricity supply on days of extreme fire risk, thereby potentially eliminating the risk of fires sparked by the electricity distribution network, and decreasing the risk of power outages.

An added benefit of Yackandandah’s journey has been the sense of pride and togetherness derived from its 100% renewable target. Similarly, the common purpose for a project that is greater than the sum of its parts can help bushfire affected communities on their long road to recovery. Community-energy projects bring the community together to share stories and grow.

Like the Landcare-funded tree planting days of the 1980s and 1990s that changed the landscape of rural Australia, community energy works best if many people contribute a small amount so that a broad sense of ownership is created. Community members can work together to recover by building resilience.

The examples of Scotland and Yackandandah are evidence that targeted funds can unlock local investment so that renewable electricity can become a source of income and resilience for rural communities. Post bushfire, it’s time to scale the idea throughout affected communities.

A mid-afternoon summer sky turned orange and red by uncontrollable fire is the climate catastrophe that many have dreaded. But a narrative of fear will not help rural communities recover. Community-owned energy projects can provide hope for the future by enabling rural communities to take control of their own destinies.

Matt Grogan is a co-founder of Totally Renewable Yackandandah and Indigo Power