When the lights come on at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, Brett Lee has the locals to thank.
They donated $20,000 via a crowdfunding campaign to help the centre build a roof-top solar system which provides 40 per cent of the power needed to run the performance hall Mr Lee uses for his Indigenous cultural program.
“It’s made a massive difference to the bills,” said Morgan Brady, the centre’s development coordinator.
“It’s an estimated $14,000 saving per year, which effectively funds a program for us.”
Governments and businesses pitched in too, offering $100,000.
The crowdfunding project kicked off in September 2015 and by March the next year the centre had the money it needed for its new energy system.
Ms Brady said the project meant the centre had avoided creating 16 tonnes of carbon emissions.
“For a lot of people it was a way of doing something proactive about renewable energy that they might not be able to do for themselves,” she said.
The new solar panel system provides 40 per cent of the electricity needed to power the hall used by Brett Lee, who heads the centre’s Indigenous cultural program. (ABC News: KAren Percy)
“Installing solar panels on your own house if you’re renting is not viable.”
Facing rising power bills and a confused national energy policy, this kind of “people power” is growing in popularity.
The Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network of Australia (CORENA) started up three and a half years ago and has raised $100,000 to assist 14 non-profit organisations, including the Beechworth Montessori school in Victoria which was able to install solar panels.
“Most of the people who get involved in community energy are primarily motivated by the climate emergency,” CORENA’s founder Margaret Hender said.
“They want to do something practical, tangible and immediate to reduce carbon emissions.”
‘It’s a matter of will and policy change’
A two-day Community Energy Congress is underway in Melbourne and features speakers from across the world.
One of them is Soren Hermansen who heads the Energy Academy on the Danish island of Samso, which now boasts a 100 per cent output of renewable energy — a mix of solar, wind and bio-fuels.
He admitted when the Samso all-renewables project began a decade ago about 20 per cent of islanders were not on board, so he understood the reservations people had about renewables.
However he said making the change was possible.
Danish renewable energy advocate Soren Hermansen says it takes time for attitudes to change. (ABC News: Karen Percy)
“It’s a matter of will and policy if the change is going to be fast or very slow,” Mr Hermansen said.
Mr Hermansen has spent three weeks in Australia visiting Bendigo, Ballarat, windfarms in Hepburn and also the La Trobe Valley, which is facing huge a change when the Hazelwood Lower Station and coal mine closes next month.
“It is a smart thing to adopt renewable energy because the powerlines are already there,” he said of the transition planned in the Latrobe Valley.
“They need to work with energy and wind because they already have the infrastructure.”
He admitted there was an issue with the intermittent nature of wind and solar power sources, as highlighted by the Federal Government.
“That is a condition we need to live with and make work in favour of the projects here,” he said.
“People are hesitating if they don’t have favourable policy in this direction and you don’t have an improved grid structure that can absorb this energy, circulate it and feed it to the right consumers in a smart and modern system.”
“It took us probably 20 years in Denmark or maybe 30 years to make that transition. We had exactly the same centralised coal-fired power stations — they’re gone now and it still works.”