Self-sufficient community energy the “sweet spot”, says Australian-first congress

The growing number of community-led projects that generate power through renewable energy was the focus of Australia’s first Community Energy Congress, held in Canberra in June.

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, as reported by ABC News.

“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. 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,” she said.

“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 31,000MW hours of energy,” he told ABC News.

“We’ve put more power into the grid than our town uses in an average year.”

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, as reported by ABC News.

“In doing so they’ll damage a significant amount of value: social value and economic value in our area. We really hope the Government takes very seriously the risk they’re putting our community in front of.”

Jarra Hicks from the Community Power Agency agreed, saying 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. It also builds relationships between people, and it keeps money in the local economy,” she said.

“When local shareholders own a portion of a renewable energy facility, that’s a benefit that stays in the community.”