Is community owned renewable energy the future?

Engineer stands in the middle of a field, looking at wind turbines.

At the end of September this year, a community owned renewable energy hub was unveiled in Narrabri, New South Wales. Partnered with Byron Bay-based energy provider Enova, the new not-for-profit organisation, ‘Geni.Energy’ aims to give support and encourage locals to get involved in a community-owned renewable energy project.

This is the latest initiative in a string of community-owned renewable energy projects popping up across Australia: near Daylesford Victoria, Hepburn Wind provides residents in the area with renewable energy from Australia’s first community-owned wind farm. The second is located in a small town in Western Australia called Denmark. In August this year, SolarShare Canberra began work on the biggest community owned solar farm in the country, in the Majura Valley. Environmental initiative COOLmob is also starting to look at community solar options in the Northern Territory.

The big question with all this is, of course, what exactly is community owned energy?

For the community, by the community

Quite simply, a community owned renewable energy project is one that is either solely or mostly owned by the local community. So a wind or solar farm is set up near to the community in question, local residents benefit from the energy generated and profits are fed back to the town or suburb by way of initiatives or projects. 

For instance, the Hepburn Community Wind Park Co-operative has over 2,000 members, most of whom are locals. In fact, the structure is not that dissimilar to a mutual bank or credit union, where everyone who joins becomes a member and benefits in some way from the profits.

How might community owned renewable energy benefit people?

Right now, most of Australia’s power is run through a centralised grid for which the energy is primarily generated from coal-fired power plants.

This means that like many other countries, a small proportion of large energy companies control most of the power. In a 2014 report supported by the NSW government and produced by not-for-profit organisation Community Power Agency, community owned renewable energy is described as a way to not only decarbonise, but also decentralise and democratise Australia’s energy supply.

Community owned energy can also supply renewable energy to people who may not usually have access to it. This could be for a number of reasons, including financially and practically. For example, anyone who lives in an apartment or doesn’t have the roof space. According to Haystacks Solar Garden, 35% of Australians are locked out of rooftop solar. Haystacks is aiming to build a community owned solar garden in the Riverina region of NSW. 

Are you plugged in?

Generally, community owned energy co-operatives will partner with an energy retailer to provide members with an electricity retail product. For instance, Hepburn Wind’s electricity partner is Powershop, who pays the co-operative for the wind farm’s energy output at the current National Electricity Market price.

Is your community looking at community owned renewable energy? 

If not, maybe you could get the ball rolling yourself. Or if you’re keen to switch right now, check out Mozo’s energy comparison tool, to see what providers are offering green energy plans in your area.

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