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.

Job opening: Community Campaigner

About Community Power Agency

Community Power Agency is a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to drive a faster and fairer transition to clean energy. We believe all Australians, regardless of where they live or what they earn, should have the right and the opportunity to participate in the clean energy transition, and by involving them we build the strong groundswell of support needed to facilitate a rapid transition to a clean energy future. 

Our small dynamic team delivers advocacy, innovation, advice and capacity building to achieve our mission. We are a unique organisation as a workers co-operative with both advocacy and fee-for-service work streams. We specialise in supporting community energy groups navigate the complex process of developing their own clean energy projects and focus on building the capacity within communities and fostering collaboration. We also work to address the systemic barriers facing the sector as a whole and play an active role in bringing socially-responsible, community beneficial business models into the Australian energy market.

The Role

  • Position: Community Campaigner, 
  • Salary (FTE): $74,100 per annum pro-rata plus 10% superannuation
  • Location: ideally Sydney (Gadigal Country), however Community Power Agency has a flexible approach to working, with most staff working remotely and for the right candidate will consider candidates outside of this area.
  • Time commitment: Part-time 3 days/week (22.5hrs) flexibility is possible according to your needs
  • Contract period: 12-month position, with view to extend 
  • Travel: National when required

We are looking for a Community Campaigner to work on the Repower Our Communities campaign with the support of our Community Engagement Manager. 

Currently we are campaigning to win community energy policy or programs at a national scale to enable the sector to thrive. This campaign is leveraging the community and media awareness from Federal Independent MP Helen Haines’ Australian Local Power Agency Bill, that we helped to design and launch. 

Here’s what your role might look like week to week:

  • Mobilising existing supporters. You craft a compelling email to encourage community energy enthusiasts to take action. You instigate phone calls and video calls to maintain relationships in the stakeholder network.
  • Facilitate an online training. You draft an agenda for community energy groups to learn advocacy skills and to brainstorm the next tactic. You ring around to confirm who is coming from each group. 
  • Deliver presentations. You design a google slides presentation about the campaign and present via an online webinar to 50-100 attendees. You answer questions from the audience.  
  • Drumming up media interest. With the support of the Climate Media Centre you write a media release or op ed for traditional and online media outlets.
  • Meet with politicians. After organising a meeting with a key Federal MP, you attend a meeting to gauge their views on the campaign, identifying potential opportunities for influence and persuade them that community energy is something they should be supporting.

Responsibilities

  • Work collaboratively with the Community Engagement Manager to run the Repower Our Communities campaign, develop advocacy strategies to build public and political support for national level community energy policy.
  • Design and deliver campaign tactics and moments that deliver on campaign objectives across the country.
  • Identify and engage trusted messengers to reach target audiences and influence decision makers.
  • Proactively identify and respond to strategic external opportunities to further the campaign.
  • Undertake relevant research, co-development of funding proposals and meeting reporting requirements.
  • Support the smooth functioning of Community Power Agency with other tasks as required.

The CPA team work on a diverse range of projects, so while these tasks will be your primary responsibility there may be times we need you to help out on our other projects. These could involve contributing to designing or assessing social licence strategy or community benefit schemes for government energy programs, researching the energy profile of a council area and suggesting appropriate community energy models or actively supporting community groups and councils to deliver community energy projects. 

Selection Criteria

  • Passionate about climate and energy justice: You care about the planet and are committed to realising a fairer future where everyone can access and benefit from renewables. Ideally, you have experience of community energy and/or community engagement in the renewables sector.
  • Strategic thinker: astute to political opportunities and threats and demonstrated ability to respond to external opportunities to further campaign objectives. 
  • Great at managing projects: comfortable connecting with people from any background, delivering tasks efficiently and effectively, planning meetings and reporting to funders for projects varying in size and complexity. 
  • Excellent communicator and collaborator: you can get your point across clearly and concisely, you are adept at using social media, a confident public speaker and skilled at writing reports and campaign plans. You enjoy networking and connecting with a range of stakeholders, including donors, community groups, government and the CPA team both in person and online. You value working collaboratively in partnership with others to achieve shared goals.
  • Experienced facilitator: you know how to design and facilitate inclusive and dynamic meetings and workshops to maximise outcomes and enjoyment, both online and in person sessions from 2 hours to 2 days. Strong ability to adapt plans and processes. 
  • Proactive & can do attitude: you show initiative and direction, solve roadblocks and successfully manage competing demands. You are excellent at self-management and working remotely. We are a small, dynamic and remote team with minimal resources and need our staff to be Jill/Jack of all trades, good at staying on top of your responsibilities, being organised, and getting things done efficiently.
  • Authentic and reflective: You value belonging to an organisation that fosters personal and professional growth in its members. You have experience working within a co-op, the non-profit or social enterprise sector and are comfortable with a flat management structure where everyone contributes and holds responsibilities.

Desirable

  • Strong understanding of federal politics and parliamentary process.
  • Fundraising or business development skills: demonstrated experience in donor relations or grant writing. Good at finding, evaluating, and seizing business development opportunities.
  • Research experience.
  • Digitally savvy: experience running acquisitions or advertising using social media tools

We encourage you to apply even if you don’t have all of the above characteristics. A passion for the work and an eagerness to learn are the most important things.

Our Values and how we work

Community Power Agency values and holds a strong vision for an energy future that is grassroots, democratic and participatory. This vision informs our structure as a workers cooperative where all members have a right to participate in key decisions of the cooperative. The Community Power Agency workers cooperative is owned and controlled by the people who work in it and as a result the organisation is directed by the employees – their shared values, hopes and visions – as well as by a mutual responsibility and care for the cooperative.

Community Power Agency adopts an egalitarian structure including a policy of pay parity and strategies to actively share responsibility for the organisation by all members playing a role in planning, business development, administration and organisational oversight. We do not have a typical line of management, instead we consciously try to work in ways that build people’s capacity, skills and confidence through mentoring and working collaboratively. 

Community Power Agency is values-driven and we keep our ethics at the heart of the way we work. We strive to be a supportive and understanding organisation that seeks to nurture our members. We are a lean and dynamic organisation with a small, dispersed and  powerful team. While our office is in central Sydney we support remote and flexible working. We put energy into remaining connected and invest in meeting as a team face-to-face twice a year (where at all possible), to evaluate, strategise and connect. We are continuously improving our way of operating by implementing strategies and using online technologies in ways that help us to remain connected and accountable.

This position is an ideal opportunity for a self-starter excited to work in a workers cooperative and with a passion for driving positive social change, who has a strong knowledge of community energy, community engagement and/or organising. 

How to apply

We are trying something new to our organisation so we can assess people on merit and values alignment. To avoid bias we are not asking for your CV or a cover letter, rather we ask all applicants to respond to the questions below. 

We are an equal opportunity employer. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, LGBTIQ people, and people with a disability are encouraged to apply.

  • To be considered for this position, applicants should have current working rights for Australia.
  • Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted for interview.
  • We respectfully request that recruitment agencies do not submit applications for this position.

 Applications close at 9am Monday 11th October 2021.
Want to have a chat before you click submit? You can contact Kristy Walters, Community Engagement Manager, on 0490 505 802 with any questions you might have.