Covid lockdowns and restrictions have had a significant impact on the work of Renewable Energy Benalla (REB), particularly in relation to meetings and conducting any workshop activities. Implementing the Benalla Stationary Energy Transition Strategy developed in 2017 with assistance from Beyond Zero Emissions continues to be the major goal of REB. This strategy has the goal of achieving 100% renewables by 2028.
Benalla Community Energy Project
The establishment of the Benalla Community Energy Project working group as a sub group of REB has been very successful. The goal of this working group was to establish a donation based Community Energy Fund, managed as a separate BSFG bank account, which makes interest free loans to community buildings to install solar panels or conduct other energy efficiency measures. Loan repayments by the community group to the fund are based on savings on energy bills. These repayments eventually enable funding of another system and the fund becomes a 'revolving fund'.
The Community Energy Project working group approached two Benalla kindergartens who accepted the offer of interest free loans to install solar panels. Panels were installed at Munro Ave kindergarten in May 2021 and Bernard Briggs kindergarten in late January this year. Grants from the Winton Solar Farm Community Benefit Scheme assisted with funding both these projects. The solar installer, Solargain, made significant in-kind contributions to both projects and have indicated that they are willing to assist REB in future projects. Loan repayments from both kindergartens are rebuilding the balance of the fund. The working group will now work towards identifying potential future projects to fund.
Due to Covid we have been unable to conduct Energy Efficiency workshops during the last two years. While the 2019 workshops were seen to be excellent by those who attended, the number of participants was disappointing.
Improving energy efficiency, and therefore reducing energy use, is a major focus of the Transition Strategy and we need to focus on how to best promote this.
Community Power Hub
A joint initiative from Goulburn Valley Community Energy and Indigo Power has resulted in the establishment of the Hume Community Power Hub. The Victorian government has established a number of such Hubs across the state and has provided them with significant funding. The purpose of the Hume Community Power Hub is to increase the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the Hume Region. In order to do this the Hume Community Power Hub will build the capacity of the North East Community Energy Network and its members.
REB is a member of this network, which is the largest community energy network in Australia. Kevin Smith is the REB/BSFG representative on this group.
BSGF obtained funding from the Hume Community Power Hub to conduct information sessions for landlords about the advantages of installing solar panels on their properties to enable renters to have access to cheaper electricity bills.
Future of REB
REB has been struggling for some time due largely to a lack of active members and the future of REB has been discussed at several REB meetings. The Community Energy Project working group had been meeting independently of REB but in November we held a joint meeting to discuss the future of REB. It was decided that the groups should combine. This should overcome some of the problems that REB has been having.
As a result of the BSFG Review process some new members have joined REB and this should also help.
Renewable Energy Benalla was established as an action group of BSFG in 2017, following a very successful public forum in October 2016 on 'Future Energy for Benalla'. After five years as Convenor this report will be my final involvement with REB as I am moving away from Benalla very shortly.
Renewable Energy Benalla (REB)
Report to Benalla Sustainable Future Group AGM - Thursday 27 May 2021
While the activities of Renewable Energy Benalla were impacted by COVID restrictions during 2020 some activities resumed with the easing of restrictions in 2021.
Benalla Community Energy Project (BCEP)
REB has been successful in implementing the Benalla Community Energy Project (BCEP) which aims to establish a donation based revolving fund to install solar panels, or undertake energy efficiency upgrades, on community facilities in and around Benalla.
The project provides interest free loans to the selected community facilities, to fund the works required, with no upfront contribution being required from the receiving community organisation. Loan repayments to the fund from the host site are based on the estimated savings made on energy bills. The loan repayments gradually rebuild the balance of the fund, which can then eventually be used to make a loan to another community building. In this way the fund becomes a revolving fund.
We were able to undertake our first project without conducting a fund raising program, as we obtained a grant for $5000 from the Winton Solar Farm Community Benefit program. This grant, along with a significant donation from Sandy Campbell and a significant in-kind contribution from SolarGain, enabled us to install panels on Munro Ave kindergarten.
Following installation of the panels we conducted an official 'switch-on' ceremony at Munro Ave kindergarten on May 6th where Dr Helen Haines, the Independent Member for Indi, launched the Community Energy Project.
At the conclusion of this ceremony we announced the next project would be the Bernard Briggs Kindergarten.
A special thank you to members of the BCEP working group: David Blore, Patricia Brooke, Karen Nankervis.
Thanks are also due to the BSFG committee for their support of the BCEP.
Website and Social Media
Bev Lee and Peter Maddock continue to manage the operation of the REB website which receives a lot of attention.
Recently they have been joined by Heath Wiley who has initiated an Instagram account and is an excellent photographer. Our thanks to this Web team.
Waste to Energy: Adrian Howden continues to investigate a variety of options for a utility scale waste to energy project for the Benalla region. COVID has restricted the extent of these investigations.
Solar Garden: Kevin Smith has been investigating Solar Gardens with the ultimate aim of establishing one in Benalla. A 'solar garden' is like a small solar farm where households unable to install solar panels (e.g. renters) can buy a 'plot' of panels and receive an annual credit against their energy bills for the energy it produces.
North East Community Energy Network (NECEN)
This network consists of representatives from all the community energy groups in North East Victoria.
A lot of valuable networking takes place at these meetings with each group reporting on their activities. The network is supported by Indigo Power. Following the success of the trial Community Power Hubs the state government is making funding available to set up six more hubs in Victoria. Indigo Power and Goulburn Valley Community Energy have put in a joint application to establish a Community Power Hub in Hume Region.
The Benalla Stationary Energy Transition Strategy which was developed with support from Beyond Zero Emissions details appropriate strategies to achieve our goal of 100% renewables by 2028. However this is a complex task and while REB has managed to work on some of the strategies outlined in the Transition Strategy document we urgently need more people to join us to help us achieve our goal.
Many of you will have recently received a letter appealing for people to join REB and help us achieve our vision of Benalla becoming a zero net energy town by 2028. This remains an urgent need.
Renewable Energy Benalla (REB) Action Group Report 2020
Renewable Energy Benalla Vision:
For Benalla to become a zero net energy town by reducing and balancing energy demand with 100% renewable energy supply. Whilst Renewable Energy Benalla (REB) was busy during the last six months of 2019 the arrival of the COVID 19 pandemic early in 2020 has resulted in the cessation of monthly meetings and most other activity.
Transition Strategy to 100% Renewables
The major focus for REB is to implement the Transition Strategy that was developed in conjunction with Beyond Zero Emissions. The transition strategy detailed three major strategies that need to be implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve zero net energy.
These strategies are:
Strategy 1. Promoting Energy Efficiency A series of six fortnightly sessions focussing on improving the energy efficiency of existing houses were conducted during August to October. These sessions were advertised with the heading, Reduce Energy Bills and Increase Thermal Comfort, and covered the following topics: Understanding energy bills; Draught Proofing & Insulation; Lighting & Windows; Efficient Hot Water Systems, Heating and Cooling; Appliances & Cooking; Energy Monitoring, Solar Power & Batteries. Renewable Energy Benalla was successful in obtaining a Community Sponsorship Grant from Benalla Rural City to enable us to conduct these sessions. While the content of these sessions was well received we were somewhat disappointed with the relatively small number of participants. We will give consideration to what changes we need to make to have more people attend as our plans are to repeat these sessions for a number of years to help achieve the goal of reducing energy demand by one third over the remaining eight years of the transition strategy.
Strategy 2. Promoting Roof Top Solar The final session of the Energy Efficiency series was about the advantages of installing solar panels and issues around battery storage.
Another way to promote roof top solar was our work on establishing a community energy project.
Community Energy Project
As part of promoting roof top solar REB has been investigating the establishment of a Community Energy Project based on donations from the community that would provide solar panels for community buildings such as kindergartens. BSFG has established a Benalla Renewable Energy Fund that community members can donate to. This fund will be used to enable the installation of solar panels on kindergartens and other community buildings with no upfront costs required from the community organisation.
We are planning to adopt the CORENA model of providing loans to the host sites with loan repayments based on the savings made on energy bills. The fund then becomes a revolving fund that enables loans to be made to other host sites for the installation of solar panels or implementation of energy efficiency measures.
REB has been successful in obtaining a small grant from the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP) to enable us to employ consultants to prepare guidelines for project management of the Community Energy Project including governance, fundraising, selection criteria, publicity and community engagement.
As reported last year REB was successful in obtaining a grant from DELWP for the production of four communication pamphlets designed to encourage people to install solar panels and to provide information about energy efficiency. The titles of the pamphlets; Renewable Energy Benalla - Our Vision Energy Efficiency at Home, Keeping a rental house comfortable and energy efficient, Installing Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) and Batteries. Strategy
3. Investigating Utility Scale Renewables One member of the REB committee has been doing a lot of work investigating the possibility of establishing a regional utility scale waste to energy project in Benalla. A number of discussions have been held with Council staff about the feasibility of such a project. Further investigation and discussion with council will continue.
Hume Region DELWP, as part of their Climate Ready Hume project had funds available for free screenings of the documentary film "2040" which looks at the effects of climate change over the next 20 years and what technologies that exist today can reverse the effects. BSFG and REB applied for a screening at BPACC in December which was very successful with 160 people attending.
The REB website, www.reb.org.au has been very successful and receives lots of 'hits'. Our thanks to Bev Lee and Peter Maddock, for their great work in maintaining the website.
North East Community Energy Network (NECEN) This network consists of representatives from all the ten community energy groups in North East Victoria. Meetings are held every 2 months in Wangaratta but of late have been via Zoom. A lot of valuable networking takes place at these meetings with each group reporting on their activities. This network is supported by Indigo Power.
One major initiative that REB took part in was a regional hot water bulk buy. There were two systems available; a very efficient heat pump system or an evacuated tube solar system. The major purpose was to encourage people to reduce energy demand by installing a very energy efficient hot water system. Four people took up this offer in Benalla with 65 systems being installed across the region.
Launch of Indigo Power REB took part in promoting the launch of Indigo Power, a community owned energy company. There were a series of launches to be held in regional centres, including Benalla, but COVID 19 came along and the launches were conducted by Zoom. Indigo Power is a registered Social Enterprise, which means that 50% of profits will be shared amongst the community. Indigo Power aims to encourage the move to 100% renewable energy for our region.
Future of Renewable Energy Benalla:
REB began as an action group of BSFG but then in August 2018 REB decided to become an incorporated association basically to protect the name from a potential commercial organisation wanting to adopt it.
The REB group has always been a small group and has struggled to meet its objectives and meet the requirements of the model rules for incorporated associations. We have decided to cancel REB's incorporation and revert to being an action group of BSFG once again.
Community Engagement to help Achieve our Vision: A plan to achieve zero net energy by 2028 is an ambitious and complex task. REB need more people from the community to assist with implementing the Transition Strategy. This may be to help with a small distinctive task or to become involved in the organisation of a specific event or project. REB is currently investigating ways to improve our engagement with the Benalla community and to encourage people to become involved in achieving 100% renewables by 2028.
John Lloyd, Convenor,
Renewable Energy Benalla
Renewable Energy Benalla (REB) Action Group Renewable Energy Benalla
Vision: For Benalla to become a zero net energy town by reducing and balancing energy demand with 100% renewable energy supply.
The last 12 months have been extremely busy for the Renewable Energy Benalla action group with monthly meetings to plan how to implement the Benalla Stationary Energy Transition Strategy that was developed with the support of Beyond Zero Emissions and launched in November 2017. The transition strategy detailed three major strategies that need to be implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve zero net energy. These strategies are: I) Energy efficiency measures to reduce energy use, ii) Promote and install local roof top solar, iii) Investigate utility scale renewables, battery storage and micro grids.
Along with these three strategies it will also be important to promote the vision and activities of Renewable Energy Benalla. Many homes and businesses have made great progress with increasing efficiencies and installing rooftop solar but many people aren’t aware of the possibilities and the momentum for change that is developing. A critical activity will be to promote options and inform people so they support the change that is necessary and become active in achieving it.
In order to help promote Renewable Energy Benalla an REB website, www.reb.org.au has been established which is maintained by Bev Lee and Peter Maddock. Their work with the website is very much appreciated by members of the action group.
Renewable Energy Benalla also became incorporated in order to protect the name from any possible business starting up in Benalla who may have wanted to use that name.
A number of sessions focussing on improving the energy efficiency of existing houses were conducted during 2018.
These sessions were advertised with the heading, Reduce Energy Bills and Increase Thermal Comfort, and covered the following topics:
Understanding your energy bills - electricity and gas; Energy Efficient Lighting; Draught Proofing; Insulation; Windows: shading, coatings and films, and glazing; Efficient Hot Water Systems; Efficient Heating and Cooling Options.
These sessions will be repeated again in 2019 and in following years to help achieve the goal of reducing energy demand by one third over ten years.
Promoting Roof Top Solar
As part of this strategy REB invited Mondo Power to make a solar panel and battery offer to the Benalla community which unfortunately was not accepted by the community. Discussions have been held with Mondo to review the reasons for the failure of this offer.
Community Energy Project
As part of promoting roof top solar REB has been investigating the establishment of a Community Energy Project based on donations from the community that would provide solar panels for community buildings such as kindergartens. In order to do this BSFG would need to establish a Benalla Renewable Energy Fund that community members could donate to? Community buildings would make repayments to this fund based on the savings they would make by having solar panels on their roof. This would mean that funds would again be available to install panels on another building.
Investigating Utility Scale Renewables
One member of the REB committee has been doing a lot of work investigating the possibility of establishing a regional utility scale waste to energy project in Benalla. A number of discussions have been held with Council staff about the feasibility of such a project. Further investigation and discussion with council will continue.
Involvement with Beyond Zero Emissions
I attended the BZE AGM in Melbourne as an invited guest speaker and gave an overview of REB activities.
The Beyond Zero Emissions Electrifying Industry Report was presented to a small group of regional people on 26th March. Vanessa Petrie, CEO of BZE travelled to Benalla to present the report.
Renewable Energy Benalla has submitted applications for two different grants.
a) Hume Region Community Renewable Energy Mini-Grants
This grants program aims to support communities to engage members of their communities in activities or events which raise awareness and understanding of renewable energy opportunities. An application titled "Engaging Benalla in a Renewable Energy Future" was submitted. The grant sought was for $2915 for the design and printing of a range of communication materials to assist REB raise its profile and increase engagement with the wider Benalla community. Benalla Sustainable Future Group was nominated as the lead agency as REB does not have a bank account. This application was successful and the moneys will be paid into the BSFG bank account.
b) Victorian Community Climate Change Adaptation Grants (3CA Grants)
The 3CA Grants program aims to support practical projects focused on adaptation activities with clear community benefit. Discussions were held with Goulbourn Valley Community Energy (GVCE) about a joint application to thermally upgrade low income housing by improving draught proofing and insulation to make them more energy efficient and more thermally comfortable. A joint application for $100,000 titled 'Adapting Community Housing for Climate Change' has been made with GVCE nominated as the lead organisation. If the application is successful GVCE will handle the financial aspects.
The submission involves conducting assessments of 50 houses owned or managed by community housing organisations, 25 in Benalla and 25 in Goulburn Valley, and then carrying out retrofits of those houses. In Benalla we will focus on houses managed by Beyond Housing. Announcement of successful grant submissions will be made by the end of May.
Community Engagement to help Achieve our Vision
A plan to achieve zero net energy by 2028 is an ambitious and complex task. REB need more people from the community to assist with implementing the Transition Strategy. This may be to help with a small distinctive task or to become involved in the organisation of a specific event or project.
REB is currently investigating ways to improve our engagement with the Benalla community and to encourage people to become involved in achieving 100% renewables by 2028. The successful application for a grant to develop communication materials will help with this process.
John Lloyd, Convenor, Renewable Energy Benalla
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Banner - launch of REB's Munro Avenue Pre School 'behind the meter' solar panel installation, May 6 '21