I’ve been inspired recently by genuine grass-roots community initiatives to regain control of their energy security as a buffer against increasing costs and supply disruptions through investment in cooperative style renewable energy. The City of Victor Harbor in South Australia in particular has made an impressive start – more below, but first some background.
The Australian Government’s Solar Cities program designed to trial new sustainable models for electricity supply and use is being implemented in seven electricity grid-connected areas around Australia. It is administered by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in partnership with local and state governments, industry, business and local communities.
Solar Cities in the program are Adelaide, Alice Springs, Blacktown, Central Victoria, Moreland, Perth and Townsville.
The Townsville program includes the “solar suburb” of Magnetic Island. According to their web site: “Magnetic Island has undergone a sustainable energy transformation to help change the way people think about and use energy – now and into the future.”
“The Magnetic Island Solar Suburb initiative was undertaken by Ergon Energy as part of the Townsville Queensland Solar City project.”
A range of initiatives on Magnetic Island aim to reduce ‘peak demand’ and electricity usage, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money and defer investment in augmenting the network.
Being an island without a bridge to the mainland means Magnetic Island is effectively a ‘remote community’, notwithstanding the submarine utilities cables that connect it to the mainland grid. Remote communities are perhaps more likely to understand the importance of self-reliance as they can be isolated by weather events or damage to their grid connections. Having local capacity to produce energy helps with resilience in the face of short term (weather/natural disaster) and long term (climate change/peak oil/carbon tax) threats to grid sourced supplies.
It is not only remote communities that benefit from greater resilience. Many regional communities around Australia are under pressure from increasing energy (and other input) costs declining population and loss of local industry (including agriculture). A group of communities in Central Victoria have come under the umbrella of the Federal Solar Cities program. Towong Shire in North East Victoria provided some of the inspiration and template material for the Victor Harbor Community Purchase of Renewable Energy Program (C-PREP).
The Victor Harbor C-PREP program lists some specific goals;
- Increase local capacity to produce clean, renewable energy by reducing the financial barrier associated with switching to renewable energy;
- Communicate information on energy costs within the local community, and the economic benefits of renewable energy;
- Partner with industry and stakeholders to improve efficiencies of investing in renewables;
- Provide positive marketing exposure to private partners in exchange for improved discounting of goods and services to meet project aims;
- Develop a renewable program that commits City of Victor Harbor (CVH) residents and industry to continuous investment in renewables as future technologies, policy, market structures and costs allow;
- Strengthen local economic opportunities through training/certification of local trades for installation of selected equipment;
- Maintain economic activity through ongoing job creation associated with further installation and maintenance of renewable technologies;
- Deliver electricity cost savings to participants;
- Market this program as a part of CVH’s “preferred brand,” by communicating the social, environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy;
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions through increased uptake of non-polluting energy production;
- Avoid where possible and eventually negate Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) penalties.
Mr. Roy Ramage, Economic Development Officer, Planning and Regulatory Services, City of Victor Harbor says, “A solar retrofit program saw 800 houses in the City of Victor Harbor and a further 1,000 houses in neighbouring precincts, install a minimum set of 1.02kWh roof mounted solar panels. The City of Victor Harbor can now drive a megawatt of power off its roofs and, under federal law, can, in 2011 register as an independent power company. The economic impacts are far reaching and continuous. Solar technologies combined with domestic wind turbines afford immediate and continuous economic growth while offering insulation against the parlous state of traditional energy suppliers. The added benefit is a massive reduction in carbon footprint.”
Roy and CVH have been very generous with sharing their story and useful information they have gathered along the way: