Community energy in focus at Australian-first congress in Canberra

This article was originally published on abc.net.au/news on 16.6.14

By Carl Smith

The growing number of community-led projects that generate their own power through renewable energy is the focus of Australia’s first Community Energy Congress, being held in Canberra this week.

Nicky Ison from the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures said self-sufficient energy projects in towns and small communities were becoming more popular as people looked to transition away from fossil fuels.

“Community energy is fundamentally about community members coming together to develop, deliver and own community energy projects,” she said.

“We now have 50 community energy projects in development across every state and territory in Australia.”

Ms Ison said the projects were environmentally responsible, with social and economic benefits.

“Community energy is the sweet spot,” she said.

“Benefits include lower power bills, regional development opportunities – particularly by bringing new income streams into the community – also increased social capital, and directly acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s got social benefits, it’s got environmental benefits, people do it for economic reasons, it’s an ethical investment.”

Simon Holmes a Court said the Hepburn Wind Project in Leonards Hill was proof the model works in Australia.

“It’s been generating power into the grid for three years now, we’ve generated more than 31,000 mega-watt hours of energy,” he said.

“We’ve put more power into the grid than our town uses in an average year.”

Hepburn Wind Project ‘widely supported by community’

Mr Holmes a Court said the project was widely supported in the community.

“There’s obviously the environmental concern but a lot of people in our community were really passionate about the social return,” he said.

“Our project is a big supporter of local groups within the community, and a local employer.

“There are about 24 people who have been staff or directors, who now have a great appreciation and a whole new skill-set.”

But organisations attending the Community Energy Congress said they were concerned about reduced Federal Government support for community-led projects.

Mr Holmes a Court said government support would help communities like Leonards Hill to grow.

“In 2008-09 we built our project predicated on strong support for renewable energy and we’re very concerned that the Government is backing away from that,” he said.

“In doing so they’ll damage a significant amount of value: social value and economic value in our area.

“We really hope that the Government takes very seriously the risk they’re putting our community in front of.”

Jarra Hicks from the Community Power Agency agreed that local renewable energy projects stimulated small societies and economies.

“This is a level of engagement with renewable energy that you can’t get any other way,” she said.

“It also builds relationships between people, and it keeps money in the local economy.

“When local shareholders own a portion of a renewable energy facility, that’s a benefit that stays in the community.”

Concerns raised over Renewable Energy Target review

In the lead up to the 2013 federal election, the Coalition promised to support a fixed 41,000 gigawatt-hour (GWh) target, equating to roughly 20 per cent of Australia’s expected energy requirements in 2020.

But a review of the target is underway, headed by self-professed climate change sceptic Dick Warburton.

Ms Ison said she was concerned the Government may wind back the Renewable Energy Target and that it could jeopardise current and future community energy projects.

“The renewable energy target and maintaining, or even expanding it, is crucial to the continued growth of community energy across Australia,” she said.

“All communities across the length and breadth of Australia can benefit from community renewable energy.”

Community invited to submit proposals for ACT’s new solar energy scheme

This article was orginally published at abc.net.au/news on 16.6.14

By Carl Smith

The ACT Government is calling for proposals for a new community solar project that could generate enough energy for 250 homes every year.

Environment Minister Simon Corbell said the scheme would provide participants with a fixed feed-in tariff of 20 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years.

Mr Corbell said the project would give the community a new way to contribute to renewable energy generation.

“We are expecting a lot of interest from residents and small consortiums across the ACT who want to invest in renewable energy but need an extra incentive, such as a feed-in tariff,” he said.

The feed-in tariff price is slightly higher than the 18.6 cents per kilowatt-hour offered under the ACT’s Large-scale Solar Auctions project in 2012 and 2013.

Proposals will be considered on a first come, first served basis and will be open for one year from today, or until a cap equivalent to around 500 rooftop solar installations is reached.

Mr Corbell said the project would provide up to one mega-watt of solar power generation for community-owned schemes, which individuals would then potentially be able to buy into.

“This is a project that’s designed to support those people who, perhaps because they rent or because of the suitability or otherwise of their property, can’t install solar on their roof,” he said.

“They can potentially buy into a community-owned generator.”

Mr Corbel said the location of the infrastructure would be up to the groups applying to be a part of the scheme.

“They may be ground-mounted solar, in a field on a farmer’s property, or they may be roof-mounted solar projects on top of large buildings,” he said.

The ACT Government has committed itself toachieving a 90 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.

Mr Corbell called for proposals during the Community Energy Congress held in Canberra today.

Earlier in the year the ACT Government amended the Electricity Feed-in (Large-scale Renewable Energy Generation) Act 2011 to facilitate the request for proposals to the scheme.

Further legislation is expected to be tabled and passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly in August, making the scheme effective from that time.

Infigen Energy – Bronze sponsor of the Community Energy Congress

image001Infigen Energy is a specialist renewable energy business and has interests in 24 wind farms across Australia and the United States. A total installed capacity in excess of 1,600MW (on an equity interest basis), means Infigen currently generates enough renewable energy per year to power over half a million households. As a fully integrated renewable energy business in Australia, the company develops, builds, owns and operates energy generation assets and directly manages the sale of the electricity produced to a range of customers in the wholesale market. Infigen Energy trades on the Australian Securities Exchange under the code IFN.

Infigen’s first community-involved project is the current investigation of community interest and participation in its Flyers Creek wind farm project. This has led to the creation and support of the Central NSW Renewable Energy Cooperative (CENREC), which is represented at the Congress.

Infigen’s main objective for the Congress is to demonstrate its continuing support for the development of community energy projects in Australia and the importance of the Renewable Energy Target in that development. As Australia’s flagship renewable energy policy, it has been crucial for encouraging community investment in renewable energy and for lowering the cost of energy. It currently supports local businesses and communities to build local enterprises, reduce costs and build energy security. Removing the RET would seriously undermine the important role that community ownership plays in the renewable energy sector.

“There have been many previous reviews of the [Renewable Energy Target] legislation, and those reviews have essentially found that the scheme operates well. It has created the beginnings of a good industry in Australia, and it has achieved the objectives that were set out in the Act,” said Miles George, Managing Director of Infigen Energy.

Significant community ownership of renewable energy facilities is a feature of the UK, USA, Germany, Canada and Denmark and has been integral to the broad acceptance and then deployment of clean energy technologies in those nations. In these countries, community investment is supported through feed-in-tariffs, direct subsidy or legislated minimum participation.

Infigen supports the development of all these direct community support mechanisms in Australia.

Last chance to register for the Community Energy Congress!

Hands_Blur

Today is your last chance to register for what is set to be a sell-out first Community Energy Congress!

With only four sleeps to go, the program is at the printers (and online and downloadable here), Mayor Arno Zengerle from the award-winning renewable energy village Wildpoldsried in Germany is on his way and almost 300 participants are getting organised to be at the opening session of the Community Energy Congress at the National Library of Australia (NLA) on Monday.  Now is your last chance to be one of them, as seats are almost gone!

Community Energy Congress
16-17 June, 2014
National Library of Australia, Canberra
www.c4ce.net.au/congress

Click here to register!

An amazing program of events includes:

  • Training sessions on essential skills for community energy on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday morning
  • A fantastic social event 5.30-7.30 Monday 16th at the NLA organised by the South East Region of Renewable Energy Excellence and Solar Share
  • Inspiring speakers including Ivor Frischknecht, Simon Holmes à Court, David Green and Mayor Arno Zengerle
  • Political leaders including ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell, NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes, Shadow Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray and Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne
  • The official launch of the Coalition for Community Energy.  Find out more and register your interest to become a member by 1pm Tuesday 17th and go in the running to win a beautiful hamper – valued at $200 – and full of Capital Region and Australian goodies.
  • Thirteen breakout sessions covering a huge range of topics essential to developing a successful community energy project and growing a vibrant community energy sector.  Examples include – Making Community Solar Projects Happen, Policy Context, Show me the Money, Selling Energy, Not just Talking about Generation, Community Bioenergy and Hydro – How do we make it happen; and
  • An opportunity to help shape a Australia’s National Community Energy Strategy on Tuesday morning – click here for a detailed invitation.

On behalf of the Congress Organising Team, Nicky Ison adds,”The inaugural Community Energy Congress will be an event that participants look back on as the moment community energy became a part of Australia’s energy mainstream.  Join us for this important event and help us grow a vibrant community energy movement that benefits all Australians. I hope to see you on Monday.”

This Sunday is also Global Wind Day. To celebrate, the Coalition for Community Energy have joined with a number of other organisations to host a family picnic on the front lawns of Parliament House.  Join us and be part of the national body of support for the renewable energy target.  Sunday 15th June from 11am – 12.30pm.  To find out more, click here.

Draft National Strategy for Community Energy released

social_BlurThe newly published Draft National Strategy for Community Energy helps to articulate what this fledgling sector requires to achieve its full potential. A summary of the strategy has been released to participants of the inaugural Community Energy Congress, occurring 16-17 June in Canberra. It was developed through a national survey of 38 community energy projects and a series of interviews with key stakeholders to identify objectives and priority initiatives for five target growth areas:

  • Facilitating community energy models
  • Funding and financing
  • Capacity building
  • Building community, government and industry support for community energy
  • Policy and regulatory reform

The whole morning of the second day of the Congress (Tuesday) will be a facilitated, interactive process with all participants, including renewable energy developers and government representatives, to discuss feedback on the draft to evolve it to a final strategy. An opportunity now exists for insights from all aspects of the sector to be included in this transformative document. This is one Congress event not to be missed. From 9am-12pm at Old Parliament House. Be there.

All those in favour, raise your hands

Jarra_HicksJarra Hicks, co-founder and Director of the Community Power Agency, says, “The lack of political action has been an instigator for a lot of people on the ground. I think we’re getting to the point where there’s enough people and enough interest that we’re having successes of our own but we’re also able to influence the shape of policy.”

Jarra’s enthusiasm for the community energy sector is infectious. “Having witnessed how other communities have done it overseas and being able to share those stories and images with people is really compelling,” she says. Yet she remains grateful for the opportunity to share this inspiration, which is both refreshing and endearing.

Very active in the climate change and anti-coal movement during her university days in Newcastle, Jarra  further shaped her community-based orientation in the alternative food movement, helping to build a community supported agriculture program connecting people with food origins. Then her research focus on how communities respond to climate change connected her with communities seeking solar bulk-buy purchases and with Hepburn Wind at the then pre-planning-approval stage.

Jarra’s years of travel through North America and Europe researching inspiring community energy projects have fed her motivation since her return to Australia. “Knowing there are [urban] community groups, transition towns, climate action groups as well as regional groups that would like to really embrace community energy” but had not yet conceived the possibilities, has led to her extensive community consultation here to help spread her knowledge and experiences. She has helped initiate and develop the early stages of New England Wind out of Armidale, NSW and, more recently, Mount Alexander Community Renewables out of Castlemaine, Victoria.

“There is present in communities the will to make change and live more sustainably; to address climate change and enrich their relationships with each other.” Jarra is proving to be a great spokesperson for that will, as well as the many benefits of community energy.

“It has so much to offer [not only] getting renewable energy installed, but also building relationships in communities, building people’s skills, building people’s knowledge, their engagement as active supporters of renewable energy; building local economies; all of these different benefits including the environmental ones. What makes it so exciting is this broad appeal to such a range of people with different motivations.”

Growing up in Asia has afforded Jarra a deeper perspective, from which she sees how our choices affect the environment and other people in a global sense. She effectively distills this knowledge to help community groups through an holistic approach to these choices, encouraging us to consider what we may not have exposure to, yet can relate to as members of a community.

“It’s come a long way in the last few years in terms of the general population starting to get what it might be.” The ‘it’ is a unique combination of appropriate and beneficial social, environmental and economic outcomes which has the power to transform anyone exposed to community energy to rapidly become a supporter.

Rapid uptake successes in community energy overseas in Denmark, Scotland, Germany and USA have resulted from the following things occurring simultaneously: systematic removal of barriers in electricity markets, grid networks, and public policy; provision of funding support mechanisms such as grants or low-interest loans; access to mentors and technical assistance such as wind mapping and solar mapping.

As exciting as these times are, Jarra remains pragmatic, yet encourages, “It would be great to have incentives to support this growth, but all we really need is for everyone who is interested in this space to pitch in and do what they can to help us remove the barriers, to open the space in local communities, in the electricity market, in the grid network, in the policies.”

And so say all of us.

Memery bank

CraigMemery“I’ve been very lucky I’ve got to work on a whole lot of different projects across different scales of wind energy, so over a number of years I’ve been able to pick up a pretty broad and deep knowledge of that; so as well as the regulatory, policy and grid connection side of things [I offer] a bit of subject expertise in wind energy and also in solar.”

Craig Memery might well be a community energy treasure. As an energy industry professional now with the Alternative Technology Association, he brings to the sector an enviable knowledge of energy markets and mechanisms, regulatory and policy frameworks, as well as alternative technologies’ feasibility, installation, grid connection, project development, resource assessment and resource management. Add to that power performance testing and demand side management and there’s little wonder he’s taught wind energy at TAFE.

As a consumer advocate, Craig works at energy market and policy reform, his efforts yielding tremendous results on behalf of community energy groups in overcoming regulatory barriers – “there are rules that have been changed to assist proponents of distributed energy” – as well as resource-based challenges. “We’ve built some fantastic tools recently to help communities do feasibility studies on solar to find sites without having to spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on consultants. We give them these tools to do it themselves.”

Craig sees the Community Energy Congress as an ideal opportunity to gel the sector, allowing relationships to strengthen and thereby deepen its capacity to bring about change. He would like to see the Congress steward a coordinated and positive advocacy from the sector, to achieve recognition by energy market decision makers equal in status to, and thereby building on, existing consumer advocacy.

He envisages a desirable outcome for all as the sector matures to allow us to learn from one another so projects are delivered with greater efficiencies and to better effect.

Craig would like the Congress to convey a message to the energy market institutions and energy businesses for cooperation and support of the sector in recognition of the potential which exists for demand side participation to create new efficiencies and build a mutually beneficial, more sustainable energy sector.

Let’s help craft it.

“It’s so much fun!”

Shota FuruyaCultural, sociological and political science expert with Japan’s Institute of Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), Shota Furuya, says this is his main message to potential supporters of the community energy sector. “I have been working with this sector for 10 years and every time I go into communities I see wonderful cooperation and collaboration between many interesting people.”

Established in 2000, ISEP has helped pioneer community energy projects in Japan. Personally inspired by community energy stories from Germany and Denmark, Shota quietly states “Especially since Fukushima, we have many, many initiatives and I have supported several successful community projects. My role is to set up the forum for multi-stakeholder engagement, then facilitate consensus, project planning and development.” Then, when communities successfully start their process, he will work with them on dialogue between stakeholders. “I introduce skilled experts to practitioners and build networks among them.”

“Fukushima is very divided since the nuclear accident and communities are very sensitive to energy issues. Most people are interested in renewable energy but don’t know how to do it so we go to the communities and talk with people and advise how to start the process and how to plan and develop their projects with multi-stakeholder participation.”

“My main objective for the Congress is to share inspiring community energy stories from Japan with the Australian people. My second objective is to build a network between Australia and Japan. Renewable energy is essentially decentralised and distributed, so individuals, organisations and communities are often isolated, but sometimes international connection between those players brings unexpected new ideas, so I hope we can inspire each other.”

And with inspiration comes motivation.