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.
Report to BSFG Committee - 26 October 2021
Renewable Energy Benalla (REB) has been struggling for some time to achieve some of its goals. We have recently had discussions about the future of REB. While these discussions about how the group will operate will continue for some time we believe we need to inform the BSFG committee of some proposals for change.
Renewable Energy Benalla is a very broad title and could evoke the notion of direct marketing of renewables rather than the social/community goal of promoting the adoption of renewable energy across the Benalla community.
We are proposing that the title be changed to Community Energy Benalla as that better reflects the community focus.
However there is the issue of possible confusion with the Benalla Community Energy Project.
Considerations for Future Operations of the Group
Benalla Stationary Energy Transition Strategy
The focus of this document is to reduce stationary energy emissions to zero by achieving 100% renewable energy within 10 years. The document outlines three key steps to achieving this:
We are currently investigating a Solar Garden proposal which fits within the Replace with local renewables strategy.
The Benalla Community Energy Project (solar panels or energy upgrades) does focus on Replace but may also focus on Reduce if future projects are to do with improving energy efficiency.
Reduce and Replace strategies could be within the resources of Community Energy Benalla.
Switch to Utility Scale would be beyond the resources of CEB without major involvement from the council.
The goal of Switch would be to have a solar farm built to provide energy directly into the Benalla grid.
A local example is where Wangaratta Council invited a developer to build a solar farm to provide power to the industrial estate. This attracted industries to Wangaratta to benefit from cheaper renewable energy.
Could Benalla council be encouraged to do that for Enterprise Park?
Reduce energy demand through better building and energy efficiency
REB has conducted Energy Efficiency workshops in the past however the numbers attending the most recent workshops were disappointing. This is one of the key steps in reducing emissions and should continue to be part of the work of Community Energy Benalla.
There are many resources on the internet about retrofitting existing houses to make them more energy efficient and reduce energy bills. Possibly CEB could focus on directing people to these resources through website and social media?
Another possibility could be to conduct a forum focussed on people having problems paying their electricity bills.
Energy Efficiency Awards
In 2016 and 2018 BSFG and SunReal sponsored the Environmentally Sustainable Business Award as part of the Benalla Business Network "Business Excellence Awards". While it appears that BBN may not continue with these awards they may be interested in supporting an Energy Efficiency Award, obviously for businesses.
While it is obvious that some sort of sponsorship would be needed we believe it may be something worth pursuing, particularly with the focus on businesses. Sustainability Victoria assisted with the judging of the business awards and they may be able assist again.
Such awards may be best initiated by BSFG rather than CEB.
A major issue for Community Energy Benalla will be one of leadership as I will be moving away from Benalla in the near future.
Check out our posts and Facebook to find out more about events - both upcoming and recent - issues and items of interest.
Banner - launch of REB's Munro Avenue Pre School 'behind the meter' solar panel installation, May 6 '21