Community Renewable Energy Meeting in Bairnsdale

The second meeting to discuss various community renewable energy proposals for the East Gippsland Shire’s ‘Bright Futures’ program was held in Bairnsdale on Tuesday night (17.10). Co-ordinator Martin Richardson gave a summary of the work done so far. He emphasised that they were concentrating on projects that were feasible and could be implemented at short notice. This excluded most large-scale projects that required substantial organisation and planning such as wind farms. This narrowed the options down to rooftop solar.

The results of the “Bright Futures” renewable energy survey were summarised. It was pointed out that the survey was biased in favour solar with about half the 250 odd respondents having rooftop solar on their residences. Even so 88% want the shire to turn to renewable energy and 76% support the region moving to renewables. Martin also reported that Shire councillors were enthusiastic about the progress so far.

Consultant Rob Passey presented a more technical report outlining a range of choices within the “solar strategy”.  These included solar panel ‘bulk buys’ to bring down the price of panels, assistance to low income earners to overcome the high capital cost of installation (a targeted form of loan being gradually implemented across the state), and importantly, helping businesses struggling with large power bills.

Using donations to finance solar arrays on community and private buildings was also considered, as was the option for locals to invest in local renewable projects. In the case of the latter Rob thought the “Repower Shoalhaven” model the best to adopt. He also emphasised the need to adopt projects that can be implemented quickly with a strong effect on local employment. He preferred projects of a small scale as the best means of reducing greenhouse gases, and mentioned the whole shire could retain up to $11 million with widespread adoption of renewable energy.

I support the adoption of the ‘Repower Shoalhaven’ model or something similar as a financial means of dramatically boosting the adoption of solar energy. The ingredients are all here: an aging population most likely to have savings which are generally earning a very low rate of return, a community that is generally enthusiastic towards renewable energy, high power prices, and a demand for rooftop solar by individuals and businesses that is restricted by lack of finances.

What is needed is local organisation, done for instance by the Shire or a bank, to arrange this. The East Gippsland ‘Solar Bonds” should be secured, guaranteed to be invested locally in renewable energy projects and offer a return on investment slightly above bank interest. My savings sit in term deposits that, for all I know, are financing the urban sprawl or, worse, a coal mine in Queensland. I will gladly invest in these ‘Solar Bonds’.