Community Energy (CE) refers to projects where a community initiates, develops, operates and benefits from renewable energy.
From 2017 to 2019 the Victorian Government committed to a pilot program setting up three Community Power Hubs (CPH) that brought together locals to develop community-owned and operated renewable energy projects in regional areas of Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley. The pilot program was so successful it was extended until 2020.
After the success of the pilot program, in 2020 the Victorian Government further committed to the establishment of seven new CPHs and providing grants for community groups to install renewable energy and batteries and undertake energy audits.
The aim of the CPHs is to bring together and help the community in accessing the skills and expertise required to develop and deliver community-based renewable energy projects. This involves local volunteers, businesses, community organisations, not for profit groups and government agencies working to organise and support local community energy project ideas. The approach will look to assist testing project ideas and progressing those that are viable into bankable projects delivering local benefits and connecting them to capital to deliver.
The CPHs are hosted by a local not-for-profit organisation that works to co-ordinate and foster community energy in each location. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and mobilises local action on climate change. It does this while building the knowledge and participation of what community energy is locally, helping to build local capacity and skills, and making sure the benefits remain local and are realised.
Each of the CPHs have established their own governance structure. These generally include; A Project Control Group to ensure that the funds are used appropriately and the intent and principles of the CPH are being followed; A Roundtable Advisory Group made up diverse local membership to ensure that any local community energy projects initiated by the CPH fit within the renewable energy strategic direction of the region; and a number of Working Groups such as technical, legal, finance and communications to facilitate and progress each of the community energy projects identified through community consultation.
How that translates into on the ground action can be demonstrated by this example.
- A local community group want to do a community energy project but don’t know where to start.
- They contact the CPH to discuss their ideas and it is shaped to a proposal.
- The CPH take this proposal to the CPH advisory group (that are generally made up of community representatives, council, government reps, passionate locals, energy experts and local businesses). The CPH provides support through their respective working groups in assessing the feasibility, developing technical and finance options and suggested next steps for the project proposal.
- The developed project is provided back to the community group for implementation and the CPH can continue to provide a level of support through the whole project process.
Benefits of Community Energy
The benefits from community energy projects range depending on the type of project, but can include:
- assisting households, small businesses and community services to reduce their energy bills;
- reduced greenhouse gas production through use and storage of renewable energy, energy efficiency and other innovative energy projects;
- development of new industry (including construction) and on-going employment opportunities and assisting them to capture significant local economic benefits;
- social benefits from community environmental activities building community spirit and sense of belonging;
- providing access, involvement and ownership of a renewable energy system to local communities and assisting them to capture significant local economic benefits; and
- providing opportunities for communities precluded from renewable energy projects (e.g. low income households; apartment dwellers) to participate in community-based energy projects.
The benefits of community energy projects extend beyond those that are associated with commercial renewable energy projects. Many of the projects involve the community taking a direct ‘stake’ in the project through the significant community involvement in the development process and community or local investor ownership.
The high level of community involvement builds social capital and the community knowledge of renewable energy projects and their benefits. The learning and engagement process helps to greatly reduce reflexive opposition common to some renewable energy project such as wind farms.
Importantly, every community energy project is unique and can be tailored to ensure the benefits delivered align with community objectives set out in the development stage.
Cost of community energy
What it costs to be part of community energy depends on the type of project and in what way locals participate.
Community Energy comes from the community and driven by passion and a desire for local control of local solutions, nearly always by volunteers. Volunteers drive the ideas and activities that arrive ultimately with a project delivering benefits locally
The types of contributions include;
- Event management
- Writing articles and newsletters
- Presenting to community groups
- Writing applications for funding
- Supporting technical studies
- Contributing financial donations
- Investing financial capital to shares that return annual dividend (typically around 5%)
- Using social media to promote events and achievements.
Future of community energy
Community energy plays a critical role in driving change at a grassroots level, engaging and supporting communities to come together to act on climate change. It enables communities to take ownership of their energy generation and use in a way that promotes the sustainable use of resources and helps create a better future for all Victorians.
We know that together we can do more to reduce the impact of climate change on our communities, and that’s why these projects are so important.
Its important to show leadership in supporting Victoria’s pathway to net zero emissions by 2050 and 40 percent renewable energy by 2025, whilst locally delivering greater community connectivity, economic development and job creation opportunities
Who’s powering community energy?
Community Energy is an international movement that is well established in Europe and in the past 10 years has gained traction in Australia.
- Did you know that in Scotland has and that the Scottish Government set a target of 500 MW by 2020 for community energy.
- Did you know that Denmark has a long history of community ownership of modern wind turbines, dating back to the late 1970s. By 2001 over 100,000 families belonged to wind turbine cooperatives, which had installed 86% of all the wind turbines in Denmark. By 2004 over 150,000 were either members or owned turbines, and about 5,500 turbines had been installed, although with greater private sector involvement the proportion owned by cooperatives had fallen to 75%. Wind co-operatives range in size between one and 10 turbines, both on and off shore dotting the landscape with small clusters of turbines.
- Did you know that is Germany has is a leader in community energy project installations, but unlike Denmark, they have actively pursued both wind, bioenergy and solar projects.
The Renewables 2016 Global Status Report identified that community energy initiatives are increasingly becoming a least-cost option for energy supply for households and small businesses, particularly in rural locations. Community Energy is able to provide opportunities for households, communities, local governments and businesses to collaborate in the growth of renewable energy with benefits directly felt in the local communities, including the reduction in emissions.
In Australia Community Energy is powering forward across all states and territories. The Community Power Agency has mapped community Energy Groups in Australia.
Currently in Australia there are 60 community energy projects up and running and 80 active groups who are developing projects in various stages
It is driven by common values and causes in that communities want to have a say over their energy future and to take local practical action on tackling climate change and reducing emissions.