Community Owned Wind Farms in Australia

This research by Paul Fleckney explores the seriously cool idea of community owned renewable energy sources - that is, where a community works together to build, own and control a renewable energy facility (such as a wind farm).

Community Renewable Energy (CRE) has heaps of benefits, such as:
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increased awareness of energy issues and greater acceptance of renewables
  • Local income generation
  • Job creation, and regional/rural investment
  • Cost savings through improved load management, deferred infrastructure upgrades and educed transmission losses when compared to centralised fossil fuel based power generation
  • Increased social cohesivenesscommunity participation and empowerment thanks to the participatory approach
There are many examples of successful CRE projects in Europe, Japan and USA, but there's very few examples in Australia - Hepburn Wind in Leonards Hill (near Daylesford, Victoria) is one of them. Hepburn is a 4.1MV windfarm. It has over 1900 members, most of whom are local. All members have a stake (and a say) in the company.

Given, the benefits, why aren't there more CRE initiatives? Well, that's exactly what Fleckney explored.  Ultimately, the research showed that economic viability was the most significant barrier to CRE.  Effective policies and incentives are required to encourage investment in renewables, and discourage the use of fossil fuels.  Other issues such as network interconnection, grid operation, planning and local opposition and community capacity were also found to constrain CRE in Australia.

However, despite these barriers, CRE can really work.  The Hepburn wind farm CRE project is successful; it has been operating for over 2 years, generates enough energy to provide for the local area and then some - which is sold to Red Energy, who then sell this energy on as related product, to anyone in Victoria.  The Hepburn CRE program has even won the World Wind Energy Award.

It's research like this that has the potential to change the way we source our energy.  Overcoming barriers to CRE will enable this as a possibility to address GHG emissions, with strong economic and social benefits as well.  I'm keen to see how CRE projects develop in Australia, and how various kinds of policies can help along the way.

Read Paul's blog 'Community Renewables' containing his research here, and hit up this link to learn more about Hepburn Wind.

Paul Fleckney is a Senior Consultant at Urbis, and undertook this research whilst at the University of Melbourne in the faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.


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