Community groups wishing to set up and finance locally-owned renewable energy projects in Australia should have a much easier path to success, starting this week, after the launch on Monday of a community energy financial toolkit.
Developed by Frontier Impact group with a $296,000 grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the toolkit is the result of a collaborative effort, taking guidance from ARENA, the NSW government, Community for Clean Energy (C4CE), Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Community Power Agency and Embark.
The idea of the toolkit, which won backing from the federal government via ARENA, was to make it simpler for for community groups to secure funding, and understand the various financial model options available, so that they can take control of their energy use, lower power bills and cut pollution.
“People keep telling us that a key barrier between getting a project up and running is securing funding, or understanding complex financial models. This toolkit is designed to improve the financial literacy of enthusiastic community energy developers and increase the likelihood their projects are appropriately funded,” said Frontier Impact Group’s managing director, Jennifer Lauber Patterson.
The first iteration of the toolkit, which has its official launch at the Community Energy Congress in Melbourne Town Hall today, comprises two guidebooks: the Funding Basics Guidebook and a Behind the Meter Solar PV guidebook – each designed in close collaboration with community energy groups that have successfully funded their projects.
In Australia, “behind the meter” solar projects – such as Repower Shoalhaven’s solar array on a bowling and recreation club, and Pingala’s Young Henry’s Pub solar project – are considered among the most likely to be commercially viable, and are easier to replicate.
Lauber Patterson, said the next step for the group would be to develop additional guidebooks, explaining grid-connected solar PV, bioenergy and wind projects, as well as energy storage projects.
“We have had a lot of demand for the development of workshops to roll out the toolkit which we will be pursuing next,” she said. “Our thoughts are to develop community champions in utilising the toolkit so that financial literacy is increased and solar projects can be rolled out in shorter timeframes and at lower cost.”
Community energy projects have been a consistent and strong driver of wind and solar uptake, particularly in a number of European countries, like Denmark, and in the US.
In Australia, there are more than 50 community energy projects up and running, according to Frontier, and demand is growing. But it has not always been an easy road.
Put to the test in a number of pilot projects, Frontier says it has been found to speed up the often lengthy and arduous process of developing community renewables, and to get projects up in fraction of the time normally required.
“If the toolkit had been available when we first started our project it would have fast tracked it significantly,” said Pingala’s Tom Nockolds in comments on Monday. “We used it at a later stage of the project and it still assisted us in validating our own financial modelling at a lower cost that would have otherwise been possible.”
Dan Cowdell, of Geelong Sustainability Group, was also involved in piloting the toolkit and agreed that it would help fast-track projects at a lower cost.
The community energy financial toolkit will be launched at the Community Energy Congress in the Melbourne Town Hall on Monday, and Frontier Impact Group is running a workshop on February 29. For further details on the workshop, or to download a copy of the toolkit resources go to: www.frontierimpact.com.au/resources, www.embark.com.au. You can also watch a video here.