National Community Energy Strategy launches

This week a consortium of organisations, led by ISF, has launched the National Community Energy Strategy for Australia –www.c4ce.net.au/nces.

Over the past 18 months, ISF has been leading the project with the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and in partnership with the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), Starfish Initiatives, Community Power Agency, Embark, Total Environment Centre and E2Q.

The Strategy provides a guide for any organisation – government, community sector or private – looking to help grow a vibrant community energy sector in Australia.

But what is community energy? Community energy projects help decarbonise, decentralise and democratise our energy system and demonstrate that a renewable powered future is possible. Practically, they are projects where the community develops, delivers and benefits from sustainable energy. It can involve supply-side projects such as renewable energy installations and storage, and demand-side projects such as energy efficiency and demand management. Great example projects include Hepburn and Denmark community wind farms, RePower Shoalhaven and the CORENA donation based projects.

The National Strategy is just one of many exciting developments within the Australian community energy sector which has now grown to 20 operating community energy projects and over 70 community energy groups across Australia.

As part of the National Strategy project a Baseline Collective Impact Assessment was undertaken. This found that to date the Australian community energy sector, while still new compared to places like Germany, the US and Scotland, has:

  • Contributed over AU$23 million in community funding for energy infrastructure
  • Installed over 9 MW of renewable energy systems
  • Produced over 50,000 MWh of clean energy (as of the end of 2014)
  • Avoided over 43,000 tonnes in carbon emissions
  • Developed a membership and supporter base of over 21,000 people (not including the support base of organisations like ATA, Embark and Community Power Agency that support community energy groups).

Other recent developments include the launch of a Guide to Community Solar. The guide introduces the models of community solar that are viable in the current context and a background as to why these models work and what constrains other options within the current regulatory context.

cost and cost reduction analysis of community energy projects has also been released, which looks into more detail behind the finances and financial viability of community energy project.

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.”

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.