14 November 2011
This was also published on Renewable Energy World.
Australia is in the global spotlight for passing its new renewable energy package. A few days before the new measures passed the Senate saw an historic moment for community energy, with the opening of Australia’s first citizen-funded wind farm.
The Hepburn Community Wind Farm sits 10 km south of Daylesford, in Central Victoria and was the perfect venue for a launch festival, with local bands, food and turbine tours.
Our project was declared open when 10 year old Neve Bosher of St Augustine’s School in nearby Creswick cut the ribbon around one of the 2 wind towers. She won this by beating 147 other school children in a competition to choose the best names for our turbines. She chose Gusto and Gale.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was not able to attend but she sent us a message, ‘As Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, you’ve set a benchmark for other communities around Australia.’
The PM also referred to the benefits of distributed generation, ‘This is how so much of our energy is going to be generated in the future – not in far off power stations but in local communities, capturing the power nature gives us through the wind and the sun.’
We paid tribute to our founder, Per Bernard, who told the crowd of 750 people, ‘In Denmark, where I was born, most wind farms are owned by communities.’
The highlight of the afternoon for me was the disbursement of our first found of community grants. Earlier this year, the Board created the Hepburn Wind Community Fund and appointed a local community stalwart, Vicki Horrigan, to be the inaugural chair.
Vicky announced grants of $15,000 to community groups for diverse causes: an arboreal tree mammal research project in the nearby Wombat Forest, a community arts project by the Bungal Arts Depot in Ballan, welding equipment for the Daylesford Men’s Shed and play equipment for the Clunes Playgroup.
The Fund is a crucial element of Hepburn Wind. Most of our 1900 shareholders come from the local community, so they are keen to put profits back into the local area, as well as getting a financial return for shareholders. Monies for the Fund come from the wind farm’s profits as well as Red Energy, the electricity retailer which Hepburn Wind is selling all its output to.
Our dream is that Australia can build dozens of community wind farms and solar parks over the next several years. One of the key measures in Australia’s new carbon price package is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which has AU$10 billion for RE and ‘clean’ energy finance. Community energy projects should have access to funds from the CEFC, which will rapidly accelerate the growth of the sector.
Professor David Karoly is one of Australia’s leading climate scientists and he gave the keynote speech at our launch. ‘This project demonstrates that there’s a viable business plan for communities to build wind farms on a small scale all around Australia in rural and regional areas and it will generate income and jobs.’
Simon Holmes à Court, Chairman of Hepburn Wind said, ‘With the passage of the carbon legislation this week, many other regional communities will benefit from the transformation of our energy sector.
However, there was a sad side to the day, because the State Government of Victoria has passed some of the most draconian anti-wind laws in the world. Under these new laws, we would not have been able to build Hepburn Wind.
This is bizarre, because the project is widely supported as an exemplar of sensitive project design. Indeed, it has seed funding from the State Government, through Sustainability Victoria and was awarded the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award.
Australia has a Tea Party element who are opposed to anything positive, including solar and wind. Community owned energy is the most powerful way to build the social licence of renewables and counter the extremists. This makes Hepburn Wind an achievement not just for the locals and others who are directly involved, but for the whole country.
UPDATE December 2011.
I have been advising community energy advocates on their submissions to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Expert Review. (Briefing note ).