Tag Archives: community energy

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

Voices from the North East

TRY recently participated in a podcast on community energy groups in north-east Victoria called Voices from the North East. With the final episode of the series now released, if you’re looking for some fascinating stories to listen to in isolation, this one’s worth checking out.

Simon Duncan interviews Matt Charles-Jones
Simon Duncan from Green Energy Videos has collaborated with TRY on a number of videos and now a podcast series too. He’s seen here interviewing Matt Charles-Jones last year. Photo: Juliette Milbank

A mosaic of community energy groups are working hard across Australia to reform the national energy system.  Local groups throughout our vast land are helping to drive a just and considered switch away from the dated act of burning stuff to make electricity to smart, affordable and effective clean energy.

Video and sound producer Simon Duncan, from GreenEnergy Videos, has curated a dynamic snapshot of groups working in north-east Victoria to accelerate the transition to clean energy and do so in a way that strengthens their communities: to save money, boost local economies and help create a modern, smart renewables based electricity grid. His podcast is called Voices from the North East and has episodes on five local groups, including TRY and Indigo Power.

Why not enliven some of your unplanned spare time with the stories of passionate people working hard to usher in a new era of energy and which responds to climate change and a yearning for more people based energy systems. You can find the podcast via the link below:

Community Energy: Voices from the North East

Great work from Simon, and tireless community energy groups everywhere!

Simon Duncan is shown interviewing Ben McGowan with recording equipment
Simon Duncan (at right) also interviewed Ben McGowan (left) for the episode on Indigo Power. Photo: Juliette 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