It Takes a Village

The It takes a village stream at MEFL’s Spark! Conference discussed the rise of community energy projects in Australia and their place in the energy transition.

The stream featured the expertise of:

  • Nicky Ison, Founding Director of the Community Power Agency
  • Ben McGowan, long time volunteer with the community energy group Totally Renewable Yackandandah
  • Ralf Thesing from the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group
  • and were facilitated by MEFL’s principal for Zero Carbon Strategy and Programs, Manny Pasqualini.

Nicky Ison began by providing an excellent overview of the importance of community energy in Australia and where it’s heading. She highlighted the exponential growth of the sector where in 2009 there were no projects at all, while today there are over 105 community energy groups with over 80 projects in operation.

The projects have been very diverse ranging from community bulk-buys of sustainable energy products and services, to community retailers, micro-grids and community investment in medium-scale solar projects. However, an essential component of all of these community energy projects has been that the community benefits from the project.

Nicky highlighted that community energy has a critical role to play in Australia’s energy transition. Even though, renewable energy is growing, it still faces social and political barriers and this is where community energy steps in. By breaking down the social barriers and completely sidestepping the political barriers, it is helping increase the uptake of renewable energy in Australia and along the way inspiring local communities.

The role of community energy is to inspire; to shift what is possible; and to simply get on with it, ” Nicky Ison, Community Power Agency

We then heard from the inspiring Ben McGowan from Totally Renewable Yackandandah, a community group that is working towards achieving ‘energy sovereignty’ for their town by the year 2022. He shared their road map for the community:

Source: Ben McGowan

Ben also had some great advice for other community energy groups:

“Community engagement is vital to building trust and by partnering with specialists you can focus on what you are good at,” Ben McGowan, Totally Renewable Yackandandah

Finally, Ralf Thesing from the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group, shared his story of how their group was helping bring solar not only to residents but also to commercial, council and community buildings. By creating a renewable energy fund, they’ve been able to help a school, tennis club, council buildings, timber mill and even a brewery install solar! A key learning from their first project was the importance of keeping contracts simple.

Thank you to our speakers for sharing their expertise. MEFL has been proud to support community energy groups through the Community Solar Toolkit and will continue to support the sector in the future.