With the newspapers full of stories about rising electricity costs and governments full of ideas to re-regulate the baseload sector after having deregulated through privatisation, the remarkable rise of community energy receives little airplay. This grassroots investment by individuals in local renewable energy projects is sweeping across the world. Such projects are win-win, with investors receiving up to 7 per cent interest and consumers gaining cheap energy behind the meter.
In Newcastle, our very own Clean Energy Association for Newcastle and Surrounds (CLEANaS) successfully funded the solar installation at Hunter Wetlands Centre, and are looking for opportunities for community energy cooperative installations in the Hunter. Last year a $400,000 solar panel system on top of a bakery in western Sydney was recently subscribed in 6 hours. Across Australia about 50 community solar projects are up and running. Denmark has 5500 projects including many wind farms, Scotland has more than 500 and Germany has 880 of these energy cooperatives.
In 1988 in The Netherlands, De Windvogel Cooperative Association began with 18 people, growing to 100 members and commissioned its first wind turbine in 1993 allowing members to have renewable energy. The buying power of these householders was used as leverage for a bank loan. The loan was repaid with this buying power. The cooperative has 3400 members and four debt-free turbines with equity of $7.3million.
Community energy really does work at the ground level and may help with the problem of how to pay for the grid poles and wires as our population starts using less grid-based energy.