Community energy fund seeks $50m commitment from major parties

Proponents of a $50 million community energy fund have called on the Labor and Coalition parties to support the initiative, which they say could leverage some $825 million of private investment for more than 140,000 members of the community.

The Fund Community Energy campaign has written open letters to Labor’s Mark Butler and the Coalition’s Greg Hunt seeking backing for the plan.

As RenewEconomy reported in May, the fund aims to a catalyst for growing community interest in renewable energy projects, to fill in a gap in the country’s portfolio of renewable energy projects of between 10kW and 50MW, and to extend the model of community ownership which has been successful in European countries, particularly Denmark and Germany.

Since that time, an analysis prepared by Marsden Jacob & Associates suggests a $50 million grant fund could unleash more than $825 million of investment, or more than $15 for ever $1 in grants.

The analysis suggested that a $50 million fund would result in the construction of around 326MW of community renewable energy capacity. Around three quarters of this would be in community wind projects – such as Hepburn Wind – while solar PV would account for most of the 150 or so projects, it would contribute just 4 per cent of the total capacity due to their small size.

The study also suggested funding of $15 million would leverage around $254 million in total funds, and around 94MW of investment, while a $100 million fund would leverage around $1.7 billion and 656MW of community projects.

The study predicts a $50 million fund would generate up to 1145 construction jobs, 137 ongoing jobs, attract investment from 142,450 members of the community, 4,277 volunteers and another 380,200 people who would support the projects but would not be financially involved.

Money from the funds would be used for feasibility studies, resource assessment (such as wind monitoring), community engagement, planning studies, business case development, and legal advice.

Fund Community Energy spokesperson Nicky Ison said the infant community sector could be killed off without political support.  “Like any new sector, community-owned renewables are growing quickly and will need short-term support to succeed,” Ison said in a statement.

She said more than 40 communities across Australia are developing community-owned wind and solar projects, but only two are up and running.

“If the other 38 groups don’t receive start-up assistance soon, they risk dying on the vine,” she said.

The proposal seeks to tap into growing interest in the community renewables space, and as also outlined in RenewEconomy in May, the NSW Government confirmed our story that it is awarding $441,000 to help 9 local groups lay the groundwork for some community energy projects – mostly commercial scale rooftop solar – and to conduct feasibility studies.

“Community-owned renewable energy projects are something all Australian politicians can support–whether they’re affiliated with Labor, the Coalition, or The Greens,” said Leigh Ewbank from Friends of the Earth’s Yes 2 Renewables initiative. “The campaign is looking forward to Mark Butler and Greg Hunt’s response.”

Note: See RenewEconomy’s Community Power section for more information and stories. Please click here.


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