Recruiting for: Communications Coordinator 

An opportunity for a strategic communicator to boost the reach of a small organisation working to enable excellent outcomes for communities in the transition to a renewable energy powered future. 

About Community Power Agency

Established in 2011, Community Power Agency (CPA) is Australia’s leading organisation supporting communities to engage in and benefit from the transition to renewable energy. We are a 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 radically different organisation as a workers co-operative with both advocacy and fee-for-service work streams. We specialise in supporting communities navigate the complex process of developing their own clean energy projects and focus on building the capacity within communities, industry and government while 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 renewable energy market.

The role

  • Position: Communications Coordinator
  • Salary (FTE): $80,925 per annum pro-rata plus 10% superannuation
  • Location: ideally east-coast of Australia, 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 per week (22.5hrs) flexibility is possible according to your needs. Tuesdays, Fridays + your day of choice.
  • Contract period: 12-month position, with view to extend pending funding.
  • Travel: At least twice per year for team planning retreats (2-3 days), with other opportunities if desired.

We are seeking an experienced and driven Communications Coordinator to support our organisation in achieving greater impact. This key role will be responsible for strategic growth and development of our communications efforts. You will work closely with the wider team to build and grow our supporter base, encourage broader engagement in our various projects, campaigns and activities and strengthen our fundraising efforts. While we are a dispersed, virtual team we work in a highly collaborative way and have a range of online strategies to support this. The right candidate will be willing to contribute to facilitating effective collaboration across the organisation and our external partners.

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

  • Craft a blog post. You write an engaging and informative article explaining a current topic of our work, with input from the team.
  • Mobilise existing supporters. You craft a compelling email to encourage our supporters to take action using our engagement tools.
  • Design an ad campaign. You develop an advertising strategy, decide which channels to use, what audience to target and how to make the most of our limited budget.
  • Drum up media interest. You notice a newsworthy moment related to our work area and write a media release or op ed and secure a media hit. 
  • Collaborate with the team. You see a potential comms opportunity with another team member, so you draft a plan and create a solution together to promote their project.
  • Maintain our online presence. You regularly post to our social channels and ensure our website is up to date with recent team projects and find a better way to display our resources. 

Responsibilities

  • Proactively identify and respond to strategic external opportunities to raise the profile of Community Power Agency and further the our organisational goals
  • Prepare a range of internal and external communications materials, including campaign and project collateral, video, annual reports, supporter communications, newsletters and briefing papers
  • Grow our presence and brand through a range of traditional media, social media and digital frameworks, for varied audiences including writing editorial articles for key publications
  • Keep our website and social media platforms up to date with accurate and timely information
  • Undertake relevant research, co-development of funding proposals and deliver reporting requirements
  • Liaise with external organisations and partners and maintain strategic networks
  • Work collaboratively with the rest of the team and 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 a community engagement strategy or an interactive community workshop with a community energy group, or researching the profile of a council area.

People that will thrive in CPA are:

  • Driven by values and mission for positive change
  • Highly self motivated
  • Enjoy collaboration both within our organisation and externally
  • Community-focused
  • Task orientated and well organised
  • Interested in modeling more democratic ways of working
  • Reliable and can be counted on to deliver in a virtual team environment.

Selection criteria

Essential

  1. A passion for building Australia’s renewable energy future and improving the outcomes for regional communities.
  2. Very strong interpersonal skills, as well as excellent verbal and written communication skills, including ability to write compelling content.
  3. High level of initiative and ability to be self-motivated, responsive and flexible with a proven track record of working both independently and collaboratively
  4. Excellent organisational,  time management and delegation skills and demonstrated capacity to manage competing priorities with deadlines and time pressures.
  5. Demonstrated experience managing social media channels and website.
  6. Demonstrated experience in media relations, securing traditional media, such as articles and opinion editorials.
  7. Experience working with diverse stakeholders to achieve common goals.

Desirable

  • Strong facilitation skills, both online & in person
  • Keen interest in Australian politics and news/current affairs
  • Fundraising or business development skills, demonstrated experience in donor relations or grant writing.
  • Multimedia design skills such as photography, video production and design layout. 

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 is a workers cooperative – a business entity that is owned and controlled by the workers. Employees of the cooperative actively contribute to the direction the business takes. The work we choose to do and why, is directed by the employees – their shared values, hopes and visions – as well as by a mutual responsibility and care for the cooperative.

We strive for egalitarianism. We have a flat management structure and as such, we all take responsibility for holding ourselves and each other to account. A key part of this commitment is our policy of pay equity. We believe that people are inherently of equal value, so instead of paying some people more, we have sought to share/ redistribute responsibility, power and knowledge. Instead of a typical line of management we build people’s capacity, skills and confidence through mentoring, working collaboratively, and opening up opportunities for passionate people to ‘give it a go’. 

CPA recognise that the way we make change is as important as the outcomes. We are supportive, honest and transparent in the way we work internally and externally. We offer pro-rata public holiday leave so regardless of whether your normal work day falls on a public holiday you receive the pro-rata additional leave. As a nimble, dynamic and dispersed team, we put energy into remaining connected as best we can. We invest in getting together face-to-face twice a year to evaluate, strategise and connect as a team. We are continuously improving our way of operating, to address issues and challenges as they arise.

How to apply

Please complete the form below. Applications close at 9am Thursday 12th January 2023.

Note – we are also recruiting for an Operations Coordinator, if you are interested to combine both roles into a full time position please indicate this in your application. 

We are an equal opportunity employer. First Nations 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.
  • We respectfully request that recruitment agencies do not submit applications for this position.

Want to have a chat before you click submit? You can contact Kristy Walters, Director on 0490 505 802 with any questions you might have. 

Position Available: Operations Co-ordinator

An opportunity for an effective operations person to support a small organisation with a mission to enable excellent outcomes for communities in the transition to a renewable energy powered future.

About Community Power Agency

Established in 2011, Community Power Agency (CPA) is Australia’s leading organisation supporting communities to engage in and benefit from the transition to renewable energy. We are 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 radically different organisation as a workers co-operative with both advocacy and fee-for-service work streams. We specialise in supporting communities navigate the complex process of developing their own clean energy projects and focus on building the capacity within communities, industry and government while 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 renewable energy market.

The Role

  • Position: Operations Co-ordinator
  • Salary (FTE): $80,925 per annum pro-rata plus 10.5% superannuation
  • Location: Negotiable, ideally east coast of Australia,
  • Time commitment: Part-time 3 days/week (22.5hrs) flexibility is possible according to your needs. (Tuesday, Friday + day of your choice)
  • Contract period: 12-month position, with view to extend 
  • Travel: Minimal, twice per year team planning retreats of 2-3 days.

We are seeking a suitably qualified and experienced Operations Coordinator, who has a passion for helping the community energy sector to prosper and supporting the transition to renewable energy. As the Operations Coordinator for CPA, you would work alongside other members of the team, support their workflow and help to deliver the objectives of the organisation in accordance with our mission and values. While we are a dispersed, virtual team we work in a highly collaborative way and have a range of online strategies to support this. The right candidate will be willing to contribute to facilitating effective collaboration across the organisation and our external partners.

Your role:

The organisation is currently made up of a small, independent team of committed individuals who are developing and delivering projects, training and campaigns. Currently each member also assumes responsibility for managing parts of the organisation’s operations, such as finances and governance. However, as CPA grows we are finding that much of this organisational work would be better performed by an individual who has oversight across all areas of our operations. This would provide project staff with more time to focus on project design and delivery.  Therefore, we are seeking a person with strong organisational skills and experience across a range of areas including:

  • Finance (high level, we have an accountant)
  • Human Resources & Support
  • Governance & Operations

You should be self-driven, be able to work 100% autonomously, dedicated, and know how to solve problems creatively with a “can-do” attitude and enthusiasm for working in a small and lean team. You will work with our team and board to develop and refine processes and procedures that ensure that CPA runs smoothly.
The candidate may also work on existing CPA projects from time to time, where appropriate. After the six months we would evaluate our collaboration, and we would be hoping that your work on organisational management have resulted in positive outcomes for the broader team and the effectiveness of the organisation. 

Responsibilities

We seek an individual with great abilities and skills in the following areas:

Financial Management:

  • Budgets – Support the Payroll Officer in developing project/business budgets and financial plans, provide information to support financial decision making, track project budgets and hours.
  • Reporting and Compliance – Ensure that all governance and financial compliance is complete, such as audits and annual statement lodgement, ensure timesheets and project budgets are up to date, handle all subscriptions and relevant insurances.

Human Resources and Support:

  • Recruitment – Lead process to develop role descriptions, seek candidates, select and hire in collaboration with the team, and onboarding new employees, oversee the drafting and issue of Employment Contracts, managing leave, flex and other entitlements.
  • Professional and Organisational Development – Supporting knowledge development and identifying external training/ learning options for employees, arranging mentoring opportunities for employees, team building and relationship development such as social events, identifying new roles and skills gaps.
  • People care – Casual ‘checking-in’ with our team around their workload, satisfaction in the role, fit in the organisation, organising performance reviews and assisting to design work plans, organising conflict resolution, disciplinary actions and dismissals if needed, oversight of work/life balance for staff.

Governance and Operations:

  • Reporting – Maintaining and reviewing our Cooperative structure and associated documentation, coordinating Board meetings and communications with the Board, fulfilling external reporting obligations.
  • Policy – Developing, reviewing and updating policies, processes and procedures where needed, minimal as we are a lean & trusting organisation.  
  • Planning – Organise and plan bi-annual retreats with input from the team, maintain and upgrade planning tools such as Asana, Zoom, G Suite etc. and provide appropriate training for members, assist with travel arrangements and bookings(limited, most staff prefer DIY).
  • Administration – Responding to enquiries & general emails (info@) and , supporting meetings – preparing agendas and reminding staff of follow-up, co-ordinating course registrations and communications (eg Socially Responsible Renewable Energy Development course).

Key Attributes

The future Operations Coordinator has the following key attributes: 

  • An interest in, knowledge of and passion for community renewable energy and cooperatives.
  • Committed to working collaboratively in a transparent, accountable and democratic way. You enjoy consulting and receiving feedback from various team members. 
  • You are highly organised, have excellent attention to detail, enjoy project management and can coordinate tasks with several moving parts.
  • You have a high degree of computer literacy and like improving and setting up new systems and taking people on the journey of using those systems.
  • You can communicate clearly and constructively with colleagues (both written and verbal communication). 
  • You have the initiative and creativity to take action when faced with new ideas, new initiatives or ambiguous situations. This includes the ability to be self-driven and working remotely.

Selection Criteria

  1. Strong alignment with Community Power Agency’s mission, vision and values.
  2. Proven experience in a similar role,  providing operational support and organisational leadership to a small and very busy team. This includes competency in administration, finances, human resources and governance.
  3. Excellent organisational,  time management and delegation skills and demonstrated capacity to manage competing priorities with deadlines and time pressures.
  4. High level of initiative and ability to be self-motivated, responsive and flexible with a proven track record of working both independently and collaboratively.
  5. Well developed interpersonal and negotiation skills, as well as excellent verbal and written communication skills.
  6. High level computing skills including competency in web based and remote working systems, project and database management systems, GSuite and MS Office Suite.

Desirable

  • Prior experience working in a workers coop or not-for-profit organisation and understanding of the challenges and opportunities this work environment presents.
  • Understanding of donor management or grant writing experience

We encourage you to apply even if you don’t have 100% of the selection criteria 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 is a workers cooperative – a business entity that is owned and controlled by the workers. Employees of the cooperative actively contribute to the direction the business takes. The work we choose to do and why, is directed by the employees – their shared values, hopes and visions – as well as by a mutual responsibility and care for the cooperative.

We strive for egalitarianism. We have a flat management structure and as such, we all take responsibility for holding ourselves and each other to account. A key part of this commitment is our policy of pay equity. We believe that people are inherently of equal value, so instead of paying some people more, we have sought to share/ redistribute responsibility, power and knowledge. Instead of a typical line of management we build people’s capacity, skills and confidence through mentoring, working collaboratively, and opening up opportunities for passionate people to ‘give it a go’. 

CPA recognise that the way we make change is as important as the outcomes. We are supportive, honest and transparent in the way we work internally and externally. We offer pro-rata public holiday leave so regardless of whether your normal work day falls on a public holiday you receive the pro-rata additional leave. As a nimble, dynamic and dispersed team, we put energy into remaining connected as best we can. We invest in getting together face-to-face twice a year to evaluate, strategise and connect as a team. We are continuously improving our way of operating, to address issues and challenges as they arise.

How to apply

Please complete the form below.

Applications close at 9am Thursday 12th January 2023.

Note: We are also recruiting for a Communications Co-ordinator, if you would like to combine both roles into a full time role please indicate this in your application.

We are an equal opportunity employer. First Nations 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.
  • We respectfully request that recruitment agencies do not submit applications for this position.


Want to have a chat before you click submit? You can contact Elizabeth Noble, Director on 0426 887 415 with any questions you might have. 

Job Opening: Engagement Coordinator

After a long time of advocating for more renewables in Australia the pace has finally started to pick up. The speed and scale of renewable development occurring throughout Australia has grown the need to ensure that the transition to clean energy is both fast and FAIR

Let’s not do renewables as another extractive industry for Australia – let’s do it WELL, in ways that really involve local people and deliver lasting value to host communities.

The Community Power Agency is growing to meet this important need and we would love for you to consider joining our team at this exciting time to influence pivotal change in the energy sector.

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 radically different organisation as a workers co-operative with both advocacy and fee-for-service work streams. We specialise in supporting communities navigate the complex process of developing their own clean energy projects and focus on building the capacity within communities, industry and government while 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 renewable energy market.

The role

  • Position: Engagement Coordinator – Renewable Energy Zones
  • Salary (FTE): $80,925 per annum pro-rata plus 10.5% superannuation
  • Location: Strong preference for Armidale (Anaiwan Nganyaywana Country), however Community Power Agency has a flexible approach to working, with all staff working remotely and for the right candidate will consider candidates outside of this area if able to travel to Armidale monthly.
  • Time commitment: 4 days (30hrs/week). Must be able to work Tuesdays and ideally Fridays
  • Contract period: 12-month position, with view to extend pending funding
  • Travel: Within New England area required at least monthly and nationally on occasion

We are looking for an Engagement Coordinator to work in the New England area helping to enable best practice renewable energy development and the strategic and collaborative establishment of the Renewable Energy Zone with the community. 

Community Power Agency is passionate about supporting regional communities to participate in the transition to clean energy. With the increasing number of large scale renewable energy projects being planned for the New England region and stimulating policies such as the Renewable Energy Zone, the New England Region is embarking on a once in generation level of change. CPA is working to ensure that regional communities are central to the design of this change and are informed and empowered to guide development for their region’s future. 

To deliver this work the Engagement Coordinator will work with community organisations, Councils, training organisations, businesses, industry groups and renewable energy developers. 

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

  • Stakeholder meetings –  You facilitate a meeting with community members or host one on one meetings with key regional stakeholders such as the chair of chamber of commerce, MP’s, Mayors etc.. 
  • Facilitating forums – You co-design a forum with regional stakeholders to find common ground, inspire and collaborate initiatives to improve renewable energy development.  You develop and deliver powerpoint presentations in an engaging way. 
  • Logistics and event management – You organise and manage calendar invites and bookings with many stakeholders, booking venues/equipment and coordinating catering.
  • Writing – You identify key knowledge gaps and produce targeted content such as factsheets and briefing notes for different stakeholder groups.
  • Connecting the dots – You see the web of stakeholder interests and seek to identify action for mutual benefit between groups. You initiate one on one meetings with project developers operating in the region and create connections between industry and local and state government agencies. 
  • Be cool as a cucumber – The region is embarking on an unprecedented level of landscape change. Change without control, input or agency can threaten and unsettle humans and so in this context CPA seeks to empower the community to direct the change for the betterment of the region. You will be supported by a team of seasoned community engagers to problem solve, create and succeed with, but you will be the primary engagement person on the ground.

Responsibilities

  • Work collaboratively with other CPA staff to project manage and design initiatives for building capacity for doing renewables better primarily in New England region (NSW).
  • Contribute learnings and project time to the delivery of capacity building initiatives to the Gippsland renewable energy zone in Victoria. 
  • Identify, engage and build relationships with regional stakeholders to improve the social and environmental outcomes of renewable energy development in a REZ.
  • Proactively identify and respond to strategic external opportunities to further the objective of making renewables better for regional communities hosting a REZ.
  • Actively collaborate with other relevant stakeholders such as RE-Alliance.
  • Undertake relevant research, co-development of funding proposals and meeting funding reporting requirements.
  • Support the smooth functioning of Community Power Agency with other tasks as required.

The CPA team works 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. 

People that will thrive in CPA are:

  • Motivated by values & mission for positive change
  • Highly self motivated
  • Enjoy collaboration both within our organisation and externally
  • Community-focused
  • Task orientated and organised
  • Interested in modeling more democratic ways of working
  • Reliable and can be counted on to deliver

Selection Criteria 

Theses are the criteria we are looking for in a successful applicant and will be used to frame the questions we ask you to respond to in the application below.

  1. Knowledgeable 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Community engagement skills: You are experienced in designing and delivering community engagement programs that are highly responsive to the context you are operating in.
  4. 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 engagement 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. Proactive, can do attitude & diplomatic when required: You have a high level of initiative and ability to be self-motivated, responsive and flexible with a proven track record of working independently and remotely. You can solve roadblocks and successfully manage competing demands while remaining calm and diplomatic in difficult or conflict conversations.
  7. 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

  • Understanding of large scale renewable energy development process in NSW or VIC
  • Research experience
  • Digitally savvy: experience in google suite, Asana, and social media tools

We encourage you to apply even if you don’t have 100% of the selection criteria 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 is a workers cooperative – a business entity that is owned and controlled by the workers. Employees of the cooperative actively contribute to the direction the business takes. The work we choose to do and why, is directed by the employees – their shared values, hopes and visions – as well as by a mutual responsibility and care for the cooperative.

We strive for egalitarianism. We have a flat management structure and as such, we all take responsibility for holding ourselves and each other to account. A key part of this commitment is our policy of pay equity. We believe that people are inherently of equal value, so instead of paying some people more, we have sought to share/ redistribute responsibility, power and knowledge. Instead of a typical line of management we build people’s capacity, skills and confidence through mentoring, working collaboratively, and opening up opportunities for passionate people to ‘give it a go’. 

CPA recognise that the way we make change is as important as the outcomes. We are supportive, honest and transparent in the way we work internally and externally. We offer pro-rata public holiday leave so regardless of whether your normal work day falls on a public holiday you receive the pro-rata additional leave. As a nimble, dynamic and dispersed team, we put energy into remaining connected as best we can. We invest in getting together face-to-face twice a year to evaluate, strategise and connect as a team. We are continuously improving our way of operating, to address issues and challenges as they arise.

How to apply

We use an online form to collate applications so that we can easily assess on merit and values alignment, separately to looking at your CV.

We strive to be an equal opportunity employer; First Nations people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and LGBTIQ people are encouraged to apply.

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

Applications close at 9am Thursday 15th December 2022.

We will be contacting shortlisted applicants by Friday 17th December and conducting interviews on Tuesday 20th December.

Labor announces $100m for ‘Solar Banks’ – What are they?

Labor’s first budget included a four year, $102.2m commitment to fund a ‘community solar banks program’ as part of their promised Powering Australia Plan.

But what is a community solar bank, and how can it help with Australia’s climate and energy challenges?

WHAT IS A SOLAR BANK?

More usually known as solar gardens, these projects offer householders the chance to buy or lease a plot in an off-site solar array, with the electricity generated from their plot sold into the grid and their portion then credited back onto participants’ electricity bills via a partnership with an energy retailer.

Infographic showing a solar garden model

The concept has been adapted from the idea of a community vegetable garden, which allows those without a backyard to plant and grow fruit and vegetables in a shared plot of land. A solar garden, however, does not need to be tended by householders, meaning it can be located anywhere.

Solar gardens have been popular in Germany and in the US, with the fast growing American market seeing more than 200 MW of shared solar gardens already in operation.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Haystacks Solar Garden will build a 1.5MW solar array on 5 hectares in a paddock at a farming property in Grong Grong, one hour west of Wagga Wagga, which will be divided into 333 solar plots, each owned by an individual or nonprofit organisation.

As a form of community renewable energy, solar gardens like Haystacks are contributing to the end of fossil fuels in Australia. People with or without a roof can now choose to move away from fossil fuel generated sources of energy to solar power controlled by communities.

Renters, apartment dwellers, and people without access to a suitable roof – among the 30% of Australians currently locked out of solar – can all take part in a solar garden project. Solar gardens provide access to clean power for a diversity of households, paving the way for a fairer energy future.

Kim Mallee, Haystacks Solar Garden project manager (front right) and Ella Goninan (front left) from Community Power Agency with Haystacks Solar Garden supporters (Photo by Anna Meltzer)

Solar gardens contribute to decentralising our electricity system by adding another mid-scale energy generation project to the grid. Doing so helps to increase energy reliability in regional areas while also providing income certainty to farmers hosting the infrastructure. Both these build community resilience against future climate crises.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Pilot projects like Haystacks Solar Garden are already up and running, with plots still available to householders and not for profit organisations before construction begins in the summer months.

As more solar gardens are proposed, advocates are calling for Labor to expand the existing Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) beyond homeowners for their own solar panels to allow these rebates for solar garden plots to households that rent, live in apartments or without a suitable roof for solar.

“Community energy projects such as solar gardens play a critical role in the transition to renewable energy not just in terms of megawatt capacity but also in a way that is socially inclusive, creates social licence and stimulates meaningful regional economic development. It’s an exciting model to be pioneering for Australia, which other countries have been enjoying for years.”

Kristy Walters, Community Power Agency Director

The Haystacks Solar Garden is being developed with grant support from the NSW Regional Community Energy Fund for Australia’s first large-scale Solar Garden along with Sydney based community energy group Pingala, solar developer Komo Energy and retailer Energy Locals.

Solar banks and neighbourhood batteries a good start for Labor, but design and delivery critical

The election of an Albanese Government and a raft of climate-focused Greens and independent MPs heralds a new chapter in Australia’s story of becoming a renewable energy superpower. But there are some blank pages to fill in Labor’s Power Australia plan before community energy initiatives like solar banks and neighbourhood batteries can be deployed to assist more Australians to benefit from cheaper, cleaner power.

Over the weekend we saw that Australians in cities and regions around the country overwhelmingly voted for climate action. With the doubling of the crossbench, the public have made it clear that the major parties have not been delivering effective climate policy that will have tangible outcomes.

“Labor’s Powering Australia plan brings some welcome community energy initiatives that have potential to assist everyday Australians to transition to a lower carbon energy system and provide savings on their power bills if designed and delivered appropriately” says Community Power Agency’s project manager Kim Mallee.

The 2022 federal election result indicates broad social acceptance for the large-scale build out of renewable energy, however it should be remembered that social licence is an active process which can be revoked.

The Powering Australia Plan commits 85 solar banks and 400 neighbourhood batteries which could enable everyday Australians to be active participants in and beneficiaries of the renewable energy transition – but only if they are well designed and adequately supported.

While the design of these community energy policies is yet to be clarified, we suggest a roll-out of Community Power Hubs across regional Australia bolstered with a capacity building network behind it. 

“Community energy is not just an electricity project at a local scale – it’s the community having agency and participation in energy projects to determine their own vision” says Mallee.

Solar Gardens (Banks)

Solar Gardens (as we prefer to call Solar Banks) provide a solution for the 30% of Australians that are still locked out of the rooftop solar revolution because they rent, live in an apartment or have an inappropriate roof due to shading or other reasons. Solar Gardens offer plots in an off-site solar array with the electricity generated from their solar garden plots credited onto participants’ electricity bills. 

Community energy projects such as Solar Gardens play a critical role in the transition to renewable energy not just in terms of megawatt capacity but also in a way that is socially inclusive, creates social licence and stimulates meaningful regional economic development.

Community Power Agency has been pioneering the Solar Garden model in Australia since 2018 with an ARENA funded research project in partnership with University of Technology Sydney, that found the model is viable and desirable in Australia. 

Labor’s ‘Solar Banks’ initiative commits $100Million to deliver an initial 85 solar banks assisting with 50% of the capital costs and importantly also covers the project’s feasibility and development costs. 

After our Solar for All advocacy campaign, Community Power Agency was successful in receiving grant support from the NSW Regional Community Energy Fund for Australia’s first large-scale Solar Garden along with Sydney based community energy group Pingala, solar developer Komo Energy and community-owned electricity retailer Enova Energy. The Haystacks Solar Garden will be a 1MW solar array in the NSW Riverina and allow 333 people to purchase 3kW solar garden plots and receive credits on their electricity bill. It is in the final stages of network and construction approvals.  

From the previous two years experience developing Haystacks Solar Garden we know that to roll out an effective Solar Banks/Garden program of the size Labor are proposing will require tailored expertise, support and coordination – such that could be provided via a Community Power Hubs & Network model. 

Neighbourhood Batteries

The ‘Community Batteries for Household Solar’ initiative also outlined in the Powering Australia Plan shows some promising potential if developed effectively with communities at its heart. The initiative commits $200 million towards developing 400 neighbourhood batteries to help store rooftop solar energy at peak generation times and then make it available for the community at peak demand times.

There is a lot of buzz right now about the potential for neighbourhood batteries to assist in the transition to a clean energy future in a way that is nimble and equitable for everyday people. Developing business models and partnerships that suit the Australian electricity system and deliver meaningful participation for communities will be a key first step in developing this initiative effectively.

Whilst there are a number of neighbourhood battery trials underway in Australia there is a critical balancing act in making a project successful which requires careful consideration of network location, metering technology, tariff design and community engagement. Lessons learnt from existing trials will be critical in ensuring the roll out of an Australian wide community battery program of this scale is effective. 

For more analysis and insight on neighbourhood batteries see this Renew Economy article by ANU researchers.

Community Power Hubs

Community Power Hubs are on-the-ground support organisations with the expertise and resources to enable community energy projects like solar banks and neighbourhood batteries to thrive. 

To date in Australia there have been three regional pilot Community Power Hubs programs (currently expanded to 7 locations) funded by the Victoria Government with existing non-profit organisations resourced to deliver this program. 

A key feature that has enabled the success of the Victorian Community Power Hubs is the background facilitation role played by Sustainability Victoria – a government agency – to enable collaboration, capacity building and knowledge sharing.  

The roll out of solar banks and neighbourhood batteries will need on the ground support like Hubs adequately bolstered with a capacity building network. Our policy brief – Smart Energy Communities Program – details how 50 Community Power Hubs with grant resources and a Smart Energy Communities Network for capacity building can be delivered and scaled up over 10 years.

*This blog was edited on 26/5/22 to update our language about community batteries – we agree with the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program team that they should be referred to as “neighbourhood” batteries as a catch-all, except where community members have explicit participation and/or control over their planning and operation.