Community Power driving Solar

Posted 10 February 2015 by Jonathan Poynter
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Despite the Federal Government’s ambivalent stance on the RET (Renewable Energy Target) and the subsequent negative effect on the progress of the Solar industry in Australia, there is a groundswell of innovative and popular community based projects that are leading the way.

Northern NSW is an area that seems destined to become a source of community solar project templates with two impressive, if not inspiring, solar ideas gathering steam. It must be said at the outset that both have been the recipients of NSW Government support.

Northern Rivers Energy (NRE) is a consortium formed to establish Australia’s first community-owned energy retailer covering the area from Grafton to The Tweed. Alison Crook AO from NRE says “The plan is to create a structure that includes a trading arm that will cover energy retail and asset management – the building and financing of rooftop solar and other renewable energy plants. The ultimate holding company will likely be community owned and customers will be able to have a choice or combinations of energy supply choices. This will make local renewable energy something that locals are able to purchase should they want to.”

The initial viability work has been done for this venture with business plans and legals in the process of completion now. Locals will be able to invest in the organisation for as little at $5000 each. The organisation hopes to be forming an official company in March and hopes to have a retail licence by July. To register for further information go to www.nre.org.au

Within the same NSW area, Lismore Council, as part of its endorsed plan to go to 100 per cent renewable energy has voted to proceed with a new community solar proposal.

Starfish initiatives has proposed, as part of its “Farming the Sun” community collaboration, to start with two 100kW projects that would be jointly owned by the council and the community. Each solar farm will raise money from local investors (with entry level investments at about $5000), the money will then be lent to council, to build the solar farms, and council will repay the loans over 7 years.

Both projects in the Northern NSW region indicate a growing sense of urgency in the community and the leadership to create action from a grass roots level. Something the Federal government would do well not to ignore lest it become irrelevant in the process and the outcome of a changing energy landscape.