SHARE Solar submission to the medium-scale solar discussion paper
Submission to the Victorian government’s DPI medium scale solar discussion paper
The Sustainable Hepburn Association (SHARE) (formerly Hepburn Renewable Energy Association) established Australia's first community-owned wind farm co-operative - Hepburn Wind. HW has directly engaged nearly 1400 people as owners in a renewable energy project that will power the equivalent of 2300 homes. We could not have established this groundbreaking project without the support provided by the Renewable Energy Target and the Victorian Government.
Domestic solar uptake in the Hepburn Shire
We have been active in encouraging domestic uptake of solar PV throughout our community. To date, we have assisted in the installation of approximately 130 kW of domestic rooftop solar, which represents about 5% of the households in our area. While it takes a lot of effort to run a bulk-buy scheme, we think it is worth it. Each new rooftop array engages a household directly and positively with renewable energy. We have seen this result in behaviour change where participating householders become more conscious of their electricity consumption. They try to maximise the amount of power they have to feed back into the grid: eliminating standby power use and limiting energy expensive appliances such as heaters and air conditioners. They begin to understand their energy bills and start to live within their “energy budget” provided by their solar array. We would like to extend these benefits to other residents who may not have the capital to invest in solar.
How should medium scale solar be defined?
We would like to see the definition of medium scale solar begin at the point that the household Premium Feed-in Tariff cuts out. It should cover the band from 5 kW to 5 MW so that groups like ours would not be unduly limited in the size solar farm we build. We would like to see the financial incentives designed to make it financially viable for co-housing developments, blocks of units and flats, groups of non-homeowners and small businesses to also install solar in the 5kW plus range.
Who could benefit from medium scale solar?
It is inspiring to imagine our community building a solar farm that would complement the local wind farm. Each project could include several hundred households at a time, and at a much lower cost per household. Alternatively, a small group of 4 or 5 neighbours could share in a 10 or 20 kW array on nearby vacant crown, council or privately owned land. There are many householders who would love to put up solar, but either they are tenants, or they do not have enough north-facing roof to accommodate solar panels. These are some of the people who may join a Hepburn Solar Co-operative. Hepburn Wind will produce enough power to address the domestic needs of the twin towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, but that still leaves the power requirements of business and tourism unmet by local, renewable energy.
Unemployment is higher in regional areas of the state. Creating more solar generation will bring more green jobs to rural areas.
Our vision for our shire
We have a vision for our Shire to become a net exporter of energy. As well as supplying much of Australia with mineral water (“Mt Franklin”, “Deep Spring” are a couple of the waters that originate in our area), we could also export energy from the wind and the sun. In its 2009-2013 Council Plan, the Hepburn Shire Council committed itself to becoming a carbon neutral organization by 2013. SHARE wants to support and assist Council in achieving this ambitious goal. More than that, we want to entice Council to take on the challenge of making the entire Hepburn Shire carbon neutral by 2020. With the commissioning of the Hepburn Wind Farm, the communities of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs will become almost entirely carbon neutral in terms of domestic supply. SHARE wants to further expand on this by seeing the financial drivers are in place to encourage solar panels on every North-facing roof and on every unused piece of land in the Hepburn Shire. For this to be achieved, we need to encourage participation from all segments of the community, not just those who are fortunate enough to own North-facing real estate.
What do we need from government?
The development of the Hepburn Wind Co-operative has shown us that it can take years to get a project to the point that it will start paying dividends. Seeding funding from Sustainability Victoria has enabled HW to get through this initial stage. We also need certainty in government policy, not unpredictable changes like the abrupt ending of the $8,000 federal Solar Homes and Community Program.
Consistency in Feed-in Tariffs at a federal level would also be helpful. Our preference would be for a national Gross Feed-in Tariff. It is simple and easy to calculate the return on investment. We have found it very time consuming to estimate for householders how long it will take them to pay back their initial capital investment in rooftop solar.
HW has also demonstrated that people will invest in community energy projects if the expected return on investment is in the 8 – 12% range.
The Premium Feed-in Tariff only benefits homeowners with a suitable roof. We would like to see portability in Feed-in Tariffs, so that non-homeowners could enjoy the same benefit by purchasing a share in a neighbourhood or community-owned solar park. The tariff should not be tied to their place of residence as people who rent often change address.
With the excellent Climate Communities and Community Solar Hubs programs, the main driver we are missing is adequate price support for medium scale solar initiatives. We are excited to see your working group develop a policy framework that enables communities like our own to initiate, build and own our own solar farms.
SHARE Solar Co-ordinator