A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 9 October 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.
But does electricity have to be big business? Not any more. Renewables can put power into the hands of communities.
Community power, or community energy, are general names for various ways that groups of people are pooling their resources (such as space, money, and skills) into shared renewable energy projects.
Hepburn Wind, near Daylesford in Victoria, is a high-profile Australian example, but community power doesn’t have to mean wind power. The new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbour will include a rooftop community solar park. It will enable inner-city residents who are renters or who do not have the roof space to invest in the technology.
Community energy projects are under way in many Australian regions too. Close to home, Wagga Wagga City Council has agreed to provide their energy usage data and site access to establish whether there is a sound economic and environmental case for the Council to host a community-owned solar farm. Riverina Community Solar Farm aims to find up to five hosts for solar systems, and a group on the Central Coast is investigating solar and biogas options.
A clever way to help cash-strapped community groups go renewable is through CORENA, the Citizens Owned Renewable Energy Network. CORENA is a not-for-profit that uses donations from the public to fund practical renewable energy projects. Electricity sales and loan repayments from completed projects finance future projects, thus continuously recycling donated money. In their own words, CORENA “… is people power reaching far into the future”.
You can donate to small or large projects through the CORENA website at corenafund.org.au
Working out the financial and governance arrangements for community power takes significant effort. Most groups set themselves up as co-operatives, drawing on the century of experience developed by co-operatives in other fields. Information and help is also available from Embark Australia, a privately-funded not-for-profit that is “…working to shift the community energy sector into the mainstream, as a proven and financially viable model capable of attracting large-scale investment and growing to meet its full potential.”