The Byron Bay-based community owned retailer Enova Community Energy is set to create history and take on the established electricity retailers after raising enough money to begin operations.
Enova announced late Tuesday that it had raised $3.238 million so far – passing the $3 million minimum it needed to have enough funds to establish its operations, which will be focused on achieving 100 per cent renewable energy to its customers and the broader community in the northern rivers region of New South Wales.
The fund-raising, which aims to attract up to $4 million, is open until December 17. So far, three quarters of the total 857 applicants have come from the local community, with the rest coming from all other states.
Enova’s progress is being watched carefully by communities elsewhere in NSW and the rest of Australia. Its focus is on encouraging renewable energy, community ownership and sharing of renewable installations, and re-investing money into the local community.
In an era which is seeing a massive shift from centralised generation and quasi-monopoly control of electricity supply to a decentralised energy system, the community-owned model is one that is attracting a lot of interest.
Enova chair Alison Crook said the high level of local ownership was significant.
“This indicates the high level of local support from the local community, making us determined to take control of our renewable energy future, providing local jobs, enabling new technologies and community benefit projects across the Northern Rivers Region,” Crook said.
Enova is one of a number of fascinating initiatives in the northern rivers region, including a plan by the Byron Shire Council to achieve zero net emissions within 10 years, and a proposal from Siemens and Brookfield to create a “mini grid” for the entire region, and focus on renewables.
One town, Tyalgum, is considering doing just that, and there are a variety of initiatives in local towns to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy for their own communities.
Enova intends to be a partner in many of these initiatives, and says it is focused not just on solar energy and battery storage, along with other technologies, but on reinvesting its profits in the local community.
Crook says the focus is on local generation, and local investment. She says around $80 million in profits from the electricity market go out of the region each year to owners of businesses headquartered elsewhere.
“There is a significant leakage of economic value from the northern Rivers area,” the company says in it prospectus.
Enova plans to return 40 per cent of its dividends to its shareholders, many of whom will be local, and an equivalent amount to its not-for-profit division, which will focus on education programs and supplying renewable energy and energy efficiency to low income families.
Enova is also trying to carve an environmental niche in a market dominated by major players.
The current market is dominated by Origin Energy, which is heavily invested in coal seam gas – a fiercely contested technology in the northern Rivers. Ironically, Enova’s chief executive, Steve Harris, if a former Origin Energy executive.
In its prospectus, Enova notes that the concept of community energy in Australia is relatively new, yet in Germany, 47 per cent of renewable installations are owned by community groups, and community owned and in the US farmer and community-owned wind farm developments have emerged offering new local energy models.
“We believe the energy industry is going through a transition in which generation will move away from fossil fuels and distribution will progressively become more decentralised, particularly in regional Australia,” the prospectus says.
“It is our belief that this is likely to take place over a 10 – 20 year period, Enova believes the community needs a flexible and nimble community retail company able to respond to community wishes and act locally.”
Enova’s target is 8,000 customers by 2021, around 6 per cent of the local market, with an interim target of 5,000 customers, or 4 per cent of households. It is seeking to tap into one of Australia’s most “green-minded” communities. It estimates 26,000 of the 130,000 local energy customers are so disposed, and a similar number already have rooftop solar.
Enova will offer rooftop solar and battery storage to customers, and will also provide services helping or advising customers to go off-grid, and to repair and fix installations that have been poorly installed over recent years.
“Enova also differentiates itself from those competitors whose environmental claims are in our view confusing and based on their parent’s generation portfolio, not what they sell as a retailer, which is predominantly fossil fuel electricity sourced from the grid. Enova’s environmental credentials will be transparently strong in comparison.”
Enova also intends to source renewable energy from rooftop solar installations on homes and businesses, offering attrative feed in tariff than its competitors, and from community projects.