13-Sep-2019

Powering Queensland’s first community energy project

The first community energy project by a Queensland group is now up and running with a social enterprise in south Brisbane successfully powered by community-funded solar.

Using a model developed by a group in NSW, Energetic Communities Association (ECA) launched a new company and successfully raised more than $60,000 from community-based investors to fund the project.

ECA was founded by passionate renewable energy advocates to establish and develop community owned renewable projects and assist other communities to do the same. Power was switched on at the organisations’ first project at Brisbane’s Food Connect Shed in June, supported by 19 investors and countless volunteers.


A model for community energy

While there are various models for community energy investment, a model used by Repower Shoalhaven was chosen by the ECA for its fairness and transparency, with Repower Shoalhaven generously sharing information and legal documentation.

Food Connect Shed was an ideal partner for this initial project. A community-owned enterprise aimed at relocalising the food system and supporting local farmers, Food Connect raised almost $2 million via crowdfunding to buy a shed they had leased for 12 years, paving the way for a community power solution.

ECA President, Luke Reade said that central to the project was the establishment of a proprietary limited company, Energetic Communities One Pty Ltd, allowing up to 20 investors to get involved. All shareholders were given one vote, regardless of how many shares they own, ensuring every investor has an equitable role in decision making.

“Money raised from investors funded the purchase and installation of equipment as well as some of the business establishment costs,” Luke said.

“Food Connect Shed buys the power generated by the system through a power purchase agreement at a cheaper rate than they would get from an electricity retailer. Shareholders receive about 5% return on investment plus 10% of their primary investment annually,” Luke said.

After ten years, the power purchase agreement ends and Food Connect Shed will own the system, accessing free electricity for the life of the components. For full details about system components, check out www.energeticcommunities.org.au/energetic-communities-one/.

One of the challenges faced by the project team was obtaining timely legal advice and documentation. While NSW and Victoria have government funded programs to support communities to engage legal personnel, no such program exists in Queensland. ECA is lobbying the state government to open a community energy program and develop a legal toolkit for community energy groups.

        

The benefits of community energy

Community energy offers an opportunity for individuals and community groups to play a proactive role in transforming how we think about and generate power, according to Luke.

“Community energy demonstrates a desire to act on climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a community level,” Luke said.

“It’s also a powerful tool for community economic development because the investment stays within the local area and supports local installers and businesses.”

Who is community energy for?

Community-funded energy is an ideal solution for many types of renewable energy projects including solar, wind and biodiesel. The investment structure used in this model makes it particularly suitable for larger projects providing power to organisations such as:

  • Social enterprises
  • Co-operatives
  • Schools
  • Churches
  • Youth groups
  • Community centres
Tips for getting started

Luke’s advice for any community keen to explore similar solutions is to have a dedicated team of individuals and allow at least two to three years to bring the project to fruition (learning from existing groups can shorten this significantly). He shared his tips for getting started on a community energy project:

  1. Develop a core group of committee people such as a management committee, trust or co-op.
  2. Engage people who have adequate time to progress the project over several years.
  3. Ensure your team includes people with accounting and business experience as well as solar technical expertise.
  4. Work with trusted local solar companies and include them in the conversation from the outset.
  5. Utilise existing models and work with other community groups who have experience in delivering community energy solutions.

Keen to get involved? Energetic Communities Association is seeking partners for future projects, either by developing similar community energy projects or mentoring other communities that want to develop their own. For more information, contact Luke Reade.

Luke will be participating in a webinar for Communities in Transition Queensland on Energy Security in Regional Queensland on Tuesday 17 September at 1pm. Register at cleangrowthchoices.org/webinars.

Resources:
Energetic Communities Association
Community Power Agency
Coalition for Community Energy
Communities in Transition Queensland 

Cleantech Industries Sunshine Coast - Eco Business Hub

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