From left, Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system (Photo: SHASA)

Federal budget short changes the bush by not backing community power hubs

From left, Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system (Photo: SHASA)
Community energy group SHASA upgraded Moruya Preschool to be a solar-powered and climate resilient haven for the community (from left, Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system. Photo: SHASA)

The Morrison Government’s 2022 Budget has missed a unique opportunity to address cost of living pressures hitting regional Australians with practically no budget measures that empower everyday communities to access the full benefits of the boom in renewables.

The Community Power Agency is calling on the Federal Government to get behind a people-powered renewal of regional areas devastated in recent years by floods, drought and bushfires – and now feeling the pinch from price increases.

Community Power Agency Director Kristy Walters said there are already 110 community energy groups lowering electricity bills and handing power back to locals as the national energy system surges towards a transition to renewable energy.

“We welcome the modest continuation of funding for regional and rural solar and wind powered microgrids. But regional communities are crying out for properly funded solutions to climate-fuelled natural disasters and high power prices,” Ms Walters said.

“We’re urging the government to establish 50 on-the-ground Community Power Hubs across regional Australia to unlock a wave of prosperity, innovation and resilience – it’s a vote winner.”

“People in towns all over Australia are rolling up their sleeves, sitting around a table and coming up with community energy projects that support local jobs, local power, local resilience. But the federal budget has delivered nothing to help them.”

The volunteer-led Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) has a track record of helping families and community organisations on the NSW south coast access cheaper and more reliable power offered by renewable energy.

“During the Black Summer bushfires families sheltered in the Moruya Preschool, which suffered from days of no power. We secured grant funding and donations to upgrade the preschool into a ‘climate haven’, fitted with solar panels, battery storage, HEPA filter for smoke, a back-up power source and fire-fighting equipment. In the first six months of getting solar and battery storage, the preschool never once drew power from the grid. Their $900 quarterly power bills are practically nothing,” said SHASA President Kathryn Maxwell.

With roughly a third of households locked out of owning their own rooftop solar system, they have their sights set on an ambitious project to build a community-owned solar farm.

“We’ve achieved a lot already, but it has taken blood, sweat and tears – all in our own spare time. A Community Power Hub in our area would help us level up our impact and take on mid-scale projects, like the community solar farm. It could also support new groups in our region to learn and build on the projects it took us years to achieve,” Ms Maxwell said.

“We know Community Power Hubs are an incredibly effective form of regional development. In Victoria’s initial two-year trial they generated $14.5 million value, a 13-1 leverage of government investment,” Ms Walters said.

In February, the Community Power Hub Barwon South-West assisted YMCA Geelong to install a 60kW rooftop solar array on their sports stadium, which will save them $14,000 a year on their power bills. The hub has set up a no-interest loan with YMCA, which will pay back the investment over five years using the power bill savings, and then be generating free electricity for the lifetime of the solar system, helping the organisation to keep costs low for the community.

“With the exception of Victoria, volunteer community energy groups have continued to go it alone, using their own smarts and skills to develop new, more localised ways of generating power. But the energy system wasn’t designed for community-owned power, so they face many hurdles along the way.

“With a renewables boom already sweeping through regional Australia, everyday communities are poised and motivated to participate – but without proper planning, they will miss out on the benefits,” Ms Walters said.

For more information, visit repowerourcommunities.org.au or contact xavier@cpagency.org.au

Regional pollies urged to back local power hubs for prosperous communities

Federal political hopefuls from regional Australia are being urged to support local Community Power Hubs to help build prosperity and resilience in the regions.

Community Power Agency (CPA) is making the call in the wake of parliament’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment failing to support the Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA) Bill after a 12-month inquiry.

The bill was introduced by independent MP for Indi Helen Haines, and was designed to empower everyday communities in regional Australia to access the full benefits of the boom in renewables.

Community Power Agency Director Dr Jarra Hicks said the bill had enormous support from around the country.

“We’re calling on all regional candidates for the federal election who want to build prosperity and resilience in the regions to back Community Power Hubs – it’s a vote winner,” he said.

A key part of the ALPA bill is establishing 50 Community Power Hubs across regional Australia. These Hubs would support communities to develop their own renewable energy projects through grants of up to $500,000 a year for five years, as well as new forms of financial support including loans1.

“We know Community Power Hubs are an incredibly effective investment in regional development. In Victoria’s two-year trial they generated $14.5 million value, a 13-1 leverage of government investment2.

“Australia’s entire coal power fleet will retire in 20 years – or sooner, if Origin Energy’s announcement that it’ll close the country’s largest coal power station in just 3 years’ time is any indication. 

“The vast bulk of our new renewable energy system is already beginning to be built in regional Australia. Everyday communities are poised and motivated to participate – but without proper planning, they will miss out on the benefits of this boom.”

The Committee’s report3 recognises that community energy can revitalise regional communities, and backs the need for on-the-ground Community Power Hubs in regional centres around the country to unlock hundreds more locally-owned renewable energy projects. 

“Yet they recommended the bill not pass. We mark the Committee’s report an F for failing regional communities,” Dr Hicks said

For more information contact CPA Community Campaigner Xavier Mayes on 0423 030 658.

1 Local Power Plan, 2020

2 Community Power Hubs Pilot Program final evaluation (pdf) Sustainability Victoria, 2019

3 Advisory report on the inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 and Australian Local Power Agency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, Australian Parliament Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, February 2022

Further reference: Dr Jarra Hicks’ speech at the Public hearing on the inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 and the Australian Local Power Agency (Consequential Amendment) Bill 2021, Australian Parliament Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, 27 August 2021

We’ve marked Parliament’s inquiry report into regional renewables legislation

After a 12-month inquiry, the Energy & Environment Committee have finally handed in their report on the Australian Local Power Agency Bill – we mark it an F for failing regional communities.

The Committee clearly understands the challenges holding back community energy projects from flourishing in our regional communities and how Community Power Hubs can address this.

Yet they recommended the Australian Local Power Agency Bill not be passed.

Show your support for regional renewables with Community Power Hubs by signing our petition.

This election year we need to let both Federal Energy Minister, Angus Taylor and Shadow Minister for Energy & Climate Change, Chris Bowen know that there is overwhelming support for community energy around the country.

While the cross-parliamentary Committee report1 recognises that community energy can revitalise regional communities, and backs the need for on-the-ground Community Power Hubs in regional centres around the country, it falls short of recommending any action.

However, it’s not all bad news. This inquiry is a huge moment for community energy in Australia.

In the words of Helen Haines: “For the first time, the Australian Parliament has recognised the critical role that community energy could play in building the prosperity and the resilience of our regions.”

We know Community Power Hubs are effective in helping communities get on board with renewables. In Victoria the pilot Hubs program delivered 15 projects with 1.35 MW total capacity, created 16 local jobs and saved $364,000 in power bills and nearly 2000 tonnes of CO2-e each year. The pilot Hubs had initiated a further 15 pipeline projects with a capacity of 9.7 MW and a capital value of $14.7 million2.

And Hubs make a solid investment too. In Victoria’s two-year trial they generated $14.5 million value, which is a 13-1 leverage of government investment2.

That’s why we need to rally our supporters to get behind Community Power Hubs.

Add your name to our petition calling on Angus Taylor and Chris Bowen to get behind a national roll out of Community Power Hubs.

Two years ago, regional communities found a friend in Independent Federal MP Helen Haines when she embarked on a co-design process to develop the Local Power Plan, and introduced the Australian Local Power Agency Bill (ALPA) to the Federal Parliament.

A key part of the ALPA bill is establishing 50 Community Power Hubs across regional Australia. These Hubs would support communities to develop their own renewable energy projects through grants of up to $500,000 a year for five years, as well as new forms of financial support including loans3.

While it hasn’t been successful in its current form, the Bill has enormous support from almost every electorate around the country – and from some of our most influential national organisations, such as the National Farmers Federation4.

We must build on this bedrock of support to make sure both major parties know that at the federal election community-owned renewables are a vote winner.

Sign on to tell our Federal Energy Minister and Shadow Energy Minister to back Community Power Hubs this Federal election.

1Advisory report on the inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 and Australian Local Power Agency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 – Australian Parliament Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, February 2022

2Community Power Hubs Pilot Program final evaluation (pdf) Sustainability Victoria

3Local Power Plan, 2020

4 Local Power Plan to have public hearing after overwhelming response, Helen Haines, August 26, 2021

First of its kind: New course in ‘Socially-responsible renewable energy development’ delivered by CPA

CPA staff with landholder standing in front of wind farm

December 2021 saw two notable “firsts” in Australia’s energy transition.

An impressive milestone for South Australia, where wind and solar farms entirely powered 100% of that state’s energy needs for a record 6.5 days, just shy of a whole week.

Meanwhile in different locations around the country, renewable energy practitioners logged in to the final session of an online course teaching them new social license tools many in the industry and civil society say is critical to delivering the pipeline of new renewable energy developments on the path to Australia’s 2050 net zero emissions target.

Community Power Agency (CPA) and the Yunus Centre (Griffith University) developed the 8-week online professional development course to increase people’s confidence and skills to deliver industry-leading community engagement, benefit sharing and local procurement for commercial renewable energy developments.

The ‘Socially-responsible renewable energy development’ course is the first of its kind to be offered in Australia and was made possible with the support of renewables advocacy group RE-Alliance and philanthropic donors Danny and Sue Mathews from the Mullum Trust.

With 10 years experience in advising governments, companies and civil society organisations on community engagement and benefit sharing for renewable energy developments, course facilitator and CPA Director Dr Jarra Hicks said achieving a social licence to operate was different for each project and couldn’t be guaranteed with business-as-usual tactics.

“The renewable energy landscape is undergoing rapid change. As states and territories roll out renewable energy zones worth billions of dollars, it is essential that projects put their best foot forward through good quality, high-impact community engagement and benefit sharing practices”, Dr Hicks said.

The course featured practical on-the-ground knowledge from  11 invited industry leaders for lively discussions that spanned the full experience of renewable energy development.

Content included learning-edges for the industry around engaging with first nations communities, how to deliver community co-ownership and co-investment ,models and how to deliver value in local communities through local procurement strategies – as well as training practitioners in practices of community engagement and benefit sharing.

Course facilitator Dr Jarra Hicks (top left) and 2021 course participants
Course facilitator Dr Jarra Hicks (top left) and the 2021 cohort of renewable energy practitioners

“We had a great group of people who were highly engaged with the course and were keen to share their experiences and thoughts with their peers”, Dr Hicks said.

The course attracted 20 participants from a range of backgrounds including managing directors of renewable energy companies, project engineers and community engagement staff, as well as people from indigenous and community organisations.

“This was a fantastic course offering a deep dive into best practice community engagement in the renewable energy sector – I learnt a lot and look forward to recommending the next series to colleagues.” – Lauren Mellor, Clean Energy Communities Coordinator – Northern Territory, Original Power, an indigenous-led advocacy organisation empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with renewable energy.

“Such a fabulous course. I am so grateful to be able to learn from so many thought leaders in this space, including the course facilitator Dr Jarra Hicks.” – Mieka White, Communications & Community Relations Officer for power generation company RATCH-Australia

“This course is a timely and positive contribution to the industry.” Andrew Dyer, Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Australian Government, who helps industry and governments by identifying and promoting the adoption of best practices for planning and deploying energy infrastructure projects.

The course will run again in Q2 2022. Sign up to the CPA newsletter to be the first to receive updates.

Bank Australia announces community energy grant fund recipients

Leading ethical bank, Bank Australia, announced today their biggest ever round of grant funding, including a new category just for community energy projects. Five organisations will receive $25,000 from the Bank to develop their community energy projects.

The full list of grant recipients can be found on their website, but the five community energy winners are worth us listing here:

  • Bendigo Sustainability Group
  • Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance
  • Gippsland Climate Change Network
  • Pingala
  • Community Power Agency

Yes, that’s right – we’re one of the recipients. We’re using the funds to help Inner West Council in Sydney further develop their plans for creating a solar garden for those residents who are ‘locked out’ of owning their own rooftop solar system.

The project will determine the best solar gardens model to use for residents in the Inner West Council are and commence planning for the future implementation stage.

Our heartfelt congratulations to all the successful applicants. We look forward to seeing your community energy projects unfold and flourish with this generous support from Bank Australia.