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ARENA commits funds to boost community renewables

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Less than a week after the Abbott government confirmed it would slash funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA has revealed it will be providing financial backing for a strategy to build up Australia’s community renewable energy sector.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht announced on Tuesday that the independent agency, established as part of the former Gillard government’s Clean Energy Futures package, would contribute $165,280 to the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures towards a $266,280 project that aims to develop a strategic approach to growing the capacity of the community renewables sector.

“This project brings key players in the sector together to investigate the challenges and opportunities of community renewable projects and chart a pathway for the sector to tap into its potential,” Frischknecht said.

News of the project comes just days after Tony Abbott’s Coalition confirmed it would be slashing the budget of the $3 billion agency by $435 million, completing a clean sweep of climate change and clean energy institutions and initiatives removed or significantly downgraded by the new conservative government.

Frischknecht said the project would investigate funding models, skills and regulatory barriers for community renewable projects through research, workshops and a National Community Energy Congress.

“Community energy projects encourage regional economic development, create local jobs and encourage community support for renewables, helping the development of other projects across Australia,” he said.

UTS project leader, Nicola Ison, recognised the importance of ARENA’s support, in helping to advance what she described as a “promising and committed part of the Australian renewable energy sector.”

“Community-owned renewable energy projects put power in the hands of Australian towns and suburbs, providing an exciting opportunity, particularly for renters, to get involved in Australia’s renewable energy future,” Ison said.

The congress will take place in early 2014 in Canberra and the strategy is due for delivery in mid 2014. UTS’s project partners include Starfish Enterprises Network Limited, Backroad Connections Pty Ltd, Alternative Technology Association, Community Power Agency, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Total Environment Centre, Embark and Sustainable Regional Australia.

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