17 May 2012
Last night I spoke to a forum that was organised to allow the Premier, Ted Baillieu, to discuss his energy and climate policy with his own electorate. It was hosted by Lighter Footprints, a wonderful energy action group in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs
Lighter Footprints started to organise the forum last year and it took something like seven months for the Premier to finally, formally decline their request and handball the invitation to Michael O'Brien, his Energy Minister. Apparently the Minister took some months to handball the invitation to the public service, who attended in his place.
What follows is my speech.
Lighter Footprints Renewable Energy Forum
North Balwyn, Vic.
Wednesday 16 May, 2012 at 7:00 pm
Thank you Carolyn inviting me, and Ken for the kind introduction.
Lighter Footprints is an inspiration.
- active, organised and intelligent
- well connected into politics, which is key to having influence
- determined to help humanity get out of this climate mess.
- going well
- ur two beautiful turbines, Gusto and Gale, are installed and generating clean energy at Leonards Hill, 10km south of Daylesford.
We also have an exciting partnership with Red Energy.
You can buy good green power through the Community Saver product, and pay your bills on time – of course – and in return, Red will donate $12.50 against each bill, to the Hepburn Wind Community Fund.
The Community Fund is the most generous in Australia, paying $15,000 per turbine per year in grants to local groups.
Just this week the local paper reported that Wombat Forestcare group had a big find thanks to two new motion sensor cameras purchased by a Community Fund grant.
Cameras took night time photos of the nocturnal Brush-tailed Phascogale, a species listed as vulnerable.
We hope this data is useful to Government agencies and conservation scientists who are responsible for keeping watch over our native species.
The good news for everyone who accepts climate science, is that renewable energy is ready, here and now.
Even better news, human ingenuity, determination and competition between firms and nations is bringing down the price of solar and other clean technologies, making them competitive with coal and gas, just on narrow economic terms, let alone the climate imperative.
The tipping point is finally here.
I’ve been asked to speak about local action.
There is a case to be made that local is where all the most exciting action will take place, because energy is becoming decentralised, thanks to renewables.
The future for the grid is not centralised coal and gas power plants transmitting through a monopoly network, all run by a cosy oligopoly of big polluters.
The future of the grid is energy everywhere – a smart network of energy production and consumption, linked together in the ‘internet of things’.
My suggestion therefore – start a community energy company of your own.
Lighter Footprints Global Energy Magnates, Incorporated.
This is the best way to make a difference.
- there is nothing more hopeful and exciting than the rapid progress of clean technology
- starting the good is more effective than stopping the bad
Could you succeed?
You have the right internal factors:
- professionals in the local community, with valuable skills and networks: business, public service, academia, professional services, engineering, teaching etc.
- demonstrated that you can be cross party political, so you represent whole community
- a relatively prosperous local community, with enough ready capital to start an enterprise
Solar is the technology to look at first – here’s why.
Last week the NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, Rob Stokes, spoke to a national forum on community renewable energy in Sydney.
Mr Stokes cited ‘Darkest before dawn’, a new report from McKinsey & Company.
The report found that solar is already competitive with coal in some markets and its price will fall another 40 per cent by 2015.
Over this same period, consumers of conventional, black energy will continue to see their bills rise, dramatically.
This combination of the inefficiency of centralised, conventional electricity and the improving economics of solar led McKinseys to the conclusion that solar could be worth US$1 trillion over the next eight years, with an economic potential at 2020 of 1 million megawatts.
You can plan now, on the basis of the price solar will be at in a few years and get ahead of the energy game.
What would your energy co-operative look like?
Hepburn Wind has 2000 members, who have invested $10 million, to build a $13 million wind farm. This will generate electricity equivalent to Daylesford’s demand over the course of a year.
You could start smaller and do a project that has less risk and technical complexity
How about 200 members, investing $1 million in solar panels locally?
Find public buildings like this one, or commercial properties and negotiate to build a community solar park. Or even do a bulk buy and install on households, like other communities in Victoria.
You should also investigate the options of 3rd party financing, to add to your investor capital. The Labor-Greens Clean Energy Future package has created a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
The Broadbent report on the CEFC has opened the door to investing some of the $10 billion in community renewable energy.
There is also private capital to draw on. In the USA there are big investments being made in solar lease products.
These mean that a company will install the solar system for free and the debt is paid back against the cost savings made against rising conventional electricity prices.
My friend Danny Kennedy’s company Sungevity uses this finance model and Sungevity is now the fastest growing solar installer in the USA.
Another option is to plug in to the smart grid model and go virtual.
You could build your Lighter Footprints solar farm somewhere sunnier than lovely Balwyn.
How about Mildura, which has some of the most valuable solar resource in the world?
For example, your virtual energy utility could buy panels and install them behind the electricity meter at big commercial or industrial facilities in sunny Mildura and sell the power to those customers.
Financial and organisational innovations like this, are the cutting edge for renewable energy.
The technology is proven and cost effective. What we need now is to liberate new capital and drive down costs.
Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson’s solar flagships have been shipwrecked on the rocks of bad policy, leaving Mildura frustrated that it still lacks a big solar power plant.
Imagine how inspiring it would be if a community energy company built big solar in Mildura?
You could easily generate energy equivalent to the consumption of your many members.
Or you could be more ambitious and plan to grow and eventually offset the electricity use of a whole municipality.
The internet of energy allows you to even go one step further and use your investment to pay your home electricity bill.
The Clean Energy Collective in Colorado is leading the way, with a smart grid technology called Virtual Net Metering.
People can invest in the CEC for little as $700 for 1 solar panel. The CEC installs the panel as part of a large array and manage it for the investors. The electricity generated is credited against the investor’s bill.
On the internet of energy, you don’t have to be literally wired to your panel, to get the financial benefits from helping the planet.
An added benefit is convenience – the virtual energy generator company manages the whole portfolio of solar installations.
There are also financial benefits to investing in a virtual energy company – it can negotiate with suppliers and landholders for the best prices and buy the best technologies and put them in the best locations.
If you are serious, you can work with Embark – Hepburn Wind’s sister organisation.
Embark is a social venture established by our board chair, Simon Holmes à Court, to support the growth of the community renewable energy sector. The vision is to help encourage the establishment of 100 community enterprises over a decade.
Lastly – a solar co-op has the added benefit that it does not run up against the state government’s draconian anti-wind laws.
I believe there are many Liberals who are rational and mainstream. They do not subscribe to conspiracy theories about wind sickness, nor climate science and are embarrassed to see policy formed not on the basis of science, but anecdote.
The mainstream in the Liberal party should win out before long and overturn the wind setbacks. This will liberate $7 billion worth of investment in Victoria, producing clean energy, jobs and regional development opportunities.
And don’t forget that Hepburn Wind is still open to investors, in holdings from as little as $1100. So while you work on your own community renewable energy company, you can invest in Australia’s first one.
I’ll leave it there for now and look forward to our small group discussion after a cup of tea.
[Put box of business cards? – take one.]
Thank you for having me.