By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
Just under three months ago, NSW not-for-profit community renewables group Repower Shoalhaven launched an online campaign to raise enough money to install a rooftop solar system at the local bowling club, and kick off the south-coast NSW town’s transition to sustainable energy systems.
The ultimate goal was for 80 per cent of the rooftop solar system to be funded and owned by community shareholders, with the remaining 20 per cent to be owned and funded by the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling Club, which would purchase the electricity. At the end of the 10-year term, the bowling club will be ‘gifted’ the system.
A week before the campaign launch, RenewEconomy reported that the developers of the almost 100kW Repower One project – which also stood to be Australia’s largest solar project financed by ‘everyday investors – hoped to raise $119,800, and were calling for upfront investments of $5,990 per shareholder, for a 3.96kW share of the system.
The response was remarkable. Repower Shoalhaven’s website got 2500 hits within 24 hours, 90 people registered their interest in the project, and when the financial campaign launched a few days later, it raised $120,000 in just 10 days, with around half of the investors coming from outside of the Shoalhaven, from all over Australia.
Not bad for a small group of local people who set out in 2013 with a vision to create a viable community solar model to catalyse renewable uptake in the region.
This Friday, Repower Shoalhaven is holding a launch party at the bowling club to celebrate the huge success of its maiden voyage into community renewables.
“For our first project …we raised $120k in 10 days to install a 99kW system that will save the bowling club $300,000-$400,000 over its lifetime,” said Chris Cooper, president and energy projects manager of Repower Shoalhaven.
“The 99kW system is now happily generating community owned solar power – we submitted our first energy bill last week as a distributed community energy retailer with a PPA,” Cooper added in an email to RenewEconomy.
“We plan to roll out this model on many other local buildings in the coming year. This model doesn’t need to be used just for energy projects – it can be used to fund anything in the local area via a capital investment process.”
Cooper says the not-for-profit group has established partnerships with some of the country’s leading business innovation and legal brains to ensure its community solar model is legally and financially solid.
And its success has attracted political support, too. Attending the launch on Friday will be NSW energy minister Rob Stokes, federal Liberal Party MPs Ann Sudmalis and Gareth Ward, and NSW Liberal MP Shelly Hancock. Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash will also be there.
The considerable Liberal Party presence at the launch could be seen as a win in itself, considering the party’s recent record on renewables, and its undermining of the Renewable Energy Target.
Cooper credits the RET as a key driver of his project’s success, and recently told the local paper that cutting the target would threaten the viability of future solar energy projects in the region.
In particular, said Cooper, the recommendation of the Warburton Review panel that the eligibility for small-scale generation certificates be reduced from 100kW to 10kW systems, would have a “devastating impact,” he said.
“About 30 per cent of the upfront costs for the 99kW (Repower One) system come through the RET scheme,” Cooper said.
“Solar for small business is currently at a tipping point – if you scale back the RET now you’ll have many local businesses that won’t be able to get solar to reduce their power bills.
“There are also jobs at stake as well obviously in the solar sector locally,” Cooper added. “Repower Shoalhaven will of course be affected, although it won’t kill us, it will make life a lot harder.”