Federal budget snubs local community power hubs

Community Power Agency Director Kristy Walters said: “Budget 2022 has missed a unique opportunity to address the cost of living pressures hitting Australians in the region with virtually no budgetary measures enabling communities of all days of accessing all the benefits of the renewable energy boom.

The Community Power Agency is calling on the federal government to support citizen renewal of regional areas devastated in recent years by floods, drought and bushfires – and now feeling the pinch of price increases.

The director of the Community Power Agency said there were already 110 community energy groups lowering electricity bills and returning electricity to residents as the national energy system moved towards a transition to renewable energy.

“We welcome the modest continuation of funding for regional and rural solar and wind micro-grids. But regional communities are calling for properly funded solutions to climate-fueled natural disasters and high electricity prices,” Ms Walters said.

“We urge the government to establish 50 Community Food Centers on the ground across regional Australia to unlock a wave of prosperity, innovation and resilience – this is a vote winner.”

“Residents in cities across Australia are rolling up their sleeves, sitting around a table and proposing community energy projects that support local jobs, local power and local resilience. But the federal budget did nothing to help them.

“The volunteer-led Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) has a proven track record of helping families and community organizations on the South Coast of New South Wales access cheaper and more reliable energy offered by renewable energies.

“During the black summer bushfires, families took refuge in the nursery school in Moruya, which suffered from days without electricity. We secured grants and donations to turn the nursery school into a “ Climate Haven,” equipped with solar panels, battery storage, HEPA filter for smoke, backup power source, and firefighting equipment. During the first six months of obtaining solar and battery storage, the preschool has never once drawn electricity from the grid. Their quarterly electricity bills of $900 are next to nothing,” said the president of SHASA, Kathryn Maxwell.

“With about a third of households unable to own their own rooftop solar system, they have an ambitious project in sight to build a community-owned solar farm.”

“We have already achieved a lot, but it took blood, sweat and tears – all in our free time. A Community Power Hub in our area would help us increase our impact and undertake medium-scale projects, such as the community solar farm. It could also help new groups in our area learn and build on the projects that have taken us years to complete,” Ms Maxwell said.

“We know Community Power Hubs are an incredibly effective form of regional development. In Victoria’s initial two-year trial, they generated $14.5 million in value, a 13-to-1 leverage on government investment,” Ms. Walters said.

In February, Community Power Hub Barwon South-West helped YMCA Geelong install a 60kW solar panel on the roof of its stadium, which will save it $14,000 a year on its electricity bills. The hub has set up an interest-free loan with YMCA, which will repay the investment over five years using the electricity bill savings, then generate free electricity for the life of the solar system, helping organization to keep costs low for the community.

“With the exception of Victoria, volunteer community energy groups have continued to go it alone, using their own wits and skills to develop new, more localized ways of generating electricity. But the energy system was not designed for community-owned electricity, so they face many hurdles along the way.

“With a renewable energy boom already sweeping regional Australia, everyday communities are ready and motivated to participate – but without proper planning they will miss out on the benefits,” Ms Walters said.