WHEREVER I go across Bass Coast and South Gippsland and beyond I see solar panels, not just a lonely single string on a house as in the old days when I put solar on my place, but large roof-covering accumulations of solar panels on workshops, factories, shops, houses and rural sheds.
Numbers are expanding exponentially. It gives me hope. We can act. We can make the change that has to happen. Our small, rural and traditionally conservative communities can see the advantages already, even if some of the old political forces are slow to get the message. It is just happening.
Numbers and sizes of solar installations aren’t expanding because of large government subsidies. Households and businesses install solar because it reduces power bills, it’s easy, has a quick pay-back period and is very reliable (provided you’ve learned the lessons of the past and used a quality installer and quality products).
I am part of the Energy Innovation Co-operative. We have been working in this region for nine years, helping to encourage this change to renewables and energy efficiency.
The co-op will add in a small way to the regional renewable energy output with the 90 kW to be installed at the State Coal Mine Wonthaggi. Our Southern CORE (Community Owned Renewable Energy) Fund is helping community groups to install solar panels on their buildings.
There are other solar projects to follow, including inviting small investors to help fund a solar installation in return for income or credit on their power bill. And we will keep providing advice and support through community information sessions and social media.
But there are more and bigger solar projects coming on.
The proposed 30 megawatt solar farm outside Wonthaggi has begun the permit and community consultation process. I know of at least three other local proposals that are even less developed. They will come, in time.
I want this to be seen as a big plus for all of us. Renewable electricity generation is relatively “low hanging fruit” in reducing carbon emissions. Reducing emissions in other areas of our local economy, such as transport and agriculture, demands more effort from each of us personally. Let’s go for the easier ones like power generation where we can.
It will help if those bigger new proposals generate a “social licence” as well as electricity. That means working actively with the community as projects are developed. Locals know things about their landscape that technical engineers might miss. They need to be consulted and their interests considered over the long term.
Bald Hills Windfarm provides an ongoing “dividend” to the local communities around the site in the form of community grants. They needed to do that. I hope these new solar farms will do the same, either building in some portion of community ownership, or via a community dividend. The co-op, with its deductible gift recipient status, community energy focus, and commitment to helping community groups across the region, could make this part easy for them. We are always happy to discuss.
Also coming … I keep meeting clever young people who tell me how we will soon be able to use software and new apps to gather together distributed generation and stored energy from solar, wind and battery storage. We’ll be able to send it out when it’s needed, to stabilise the grid and add supply during those critical peak demand times, earning us income as we go. When that can happen easily, everyone will pay less for power, even those who don’t own a house or factory with a solar roof.
For years I have been saying “Our grandchildren will curse us if we don’t act.” By supporting, encouraging and helping guide the developments in renewable power that are coming our way, we are acting.
I want each of those developments to be as directly beneficial to the immediate community as they can be. But I want them to happen, for all of us, wherever and whoever we are.
Encouraging renewable energy generation, with community and business working positively together, including dealing with the changes it brings, are easy small steps towards giving our grandchildren a brighter future with a climate that is settling down.
The momentum is all positive. It’s a very exciting time …
Susan Davies runs a small mixed farm in Outtrim, growing vealers and trees, as well as fruit, vegetables and related products for Grow Lightly. She was founding chair of the Energy Innovation Co-operative and continues as director/ secretary.
Coal to green, Wonthaggi: A short video by Tom McNish looking at Wonthaggi’s transformation