Sunday, December 04, 2011

Gale and Gusto launched with fanfare

A few weeks ago we went to the launch of the two new wind turbines commissioned by Hepburn Wind which is Australia's first community wind farm.  It was a delightful community-oriented ceremony in which 760 people gathered on Ron and Nathalie Liversedges property  to witness local 10 year old Neve Bosher of St Augustine’s School in Creswick cut a massive ribbon wrapping the girth of a 68m high wind tower. Neve was the winner of a competition run through local schools to name the turbines - hence Gale and Gusto!  These turbines are symbolic of what could become widespread throughout Australia with far-sighted governance and community engagement. 

Whilst the Australian PM has written in support of the development the policy setting is still very uncertain. Depite the policy uncertainties Hepburn Wind had made significant achievements by the time of their 4th birthday in July this year. Hepburn Wind started from humble beginnings with a simple, but powerful idea — that a community could own and operate its own wind farm for the benefit of the entire community.

The Hepburn Renewable Energy Association (now known as SHARE), with the help of many, established Hepburn Wind.  In July 2007, 23 members came together and voted to form the co-operative and vote in the first board. In just four years Hepburn Wind grew to almost 1900 members and are proud of their role in establishing the community renewable energy movement in Australia.  Their achievements include:
  • built a $13.5m wind farm, the first in the country to be initiated and owned by a community 
  • almost completed commissioning and already begun generating clean, safe energy for our community
  • raised more than $9.6m from the community, been awarded $1.7m in state government grants and secured a $3.1 financing facility with Bendigo Bank
  • joined up almost 1900 members, mostly locals
  • entered into an innovative power off-take agreement with Red Energy that will enable supporters to purchase  locally generated power, while at the same time delivering significant financial benefits to the community
  • applied the co-operative legal structure where members have equal voting rights (ensuring democratic control) but share returns in proportion to their investment
  • developed the most generous benefit sharing program of any wind farm in the country, which will give special benefits to those living closest to the project as well as returning well in excess of $1m to the Hepburn Wind Community Fund over the next 25 years.
  • set a new standard for community engagement and support for a wind farm — recognised with a recent honour, the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award for 2011.
Earlier this month the Clean Energy Future package completed its passage through the Australian parliament. From the middle of next year there will be in place the beginnings of the policy framework that will usher in a lower pollution future.

As well as pricing carbon pollution, the full package mandates the establishment of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). The CEFC will direct $10 billion of the funds collected from the big polluters towards driving commercial investments in clean energy.

Hepburn Wind, Embark and their many supporters have worked hard to establish the community energy sector. With almost 60 groups nationwide starting their own journey of community power, it is important to ensure that the CEFC gets behind this sector.

The CEFC is currently seeking advice on the design of the $10 billion program — this is a great opportunity for systemic perspectives to be heard. Community groups, environment organisations, expert and passionate individuals need to advocate for the inclusion of community renewable energy into the mandate of the CEFC.

Hepburn Wind's key messages concern three basic requirements for supporting the community energy sector:
  • recognise the value of engaging the community in the clean energy transition by specifically including community energy projects
  • ensure that community projects are not ruled out due to their relatively small scale
  • make provision for early stage equity investment in community projects
The community energy sector warrants specific attention in the construction of the CEFC as it will underpin community understanding of and support for both clean energy policy and the roll out of clean energy infrastructure. This seems to me to be an essential climate chnage adaptation strategy for Australia and to make systemic sense - distributed, resilient, networked community enterprises make sense in a climate change world where surpise and breakdown in the face of extremes will be more common.

Submissions must be emailed to by 5.00pm Thursday 8 December. Anyone can make a submission.

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