Glen Innes Community Centre's big idea could turn renewable-rich town into "virtual battery"

Community Centre president Michael McNamara with Co-ordinator Brenda Beauchamp are considering a renewable future for Glen Innes.

Community Centre president Michael McNamara with Co-ordinator Brenda Beauchamp are considering a renewable future for Glen Innes.

The Community Centre thinks the town could develop Glen Innes Inc, turning our rooftops into an enormous virtual power plant creating energy the town could sell at a profit into the energy grid.

Community Centre President Michael McNamara said that's just one option they think residents ought to consider as part of a community scheme he believes has the potential to drive down power costs for local residents.

As a first step they're surveying residents interest in a range of options for community-based energy development.

"We're gauging community interest in a shared, common approach to reducing our electricity bills by helping community members to install solar panels and batteries," he said.

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"If there's the level of support for that in the community then we would look at holding a community meeting to drive it further and forward."

That meeting might elect a committee to investigate options and ultimately administrate a locally-owned scheme, which could include bulk buying solar panels or community investment in our own large scale power generation.

Mr McNamara says the logic of the scheme is that by pooling resources Glen Innes can get more bang for a resident's buck. It could even make a profit.

"The main benefit for individuals (to community-based renewable energy development) is the cost saving," he said.

"Electricity bills and power costs are one of the major financial stressors for families today.

"If we can do something that not only helps reduce the power bills but also helps increase the takeup of renewables which is better for all of us in general then you're benefiting the individual and you're benefiting the community.

"If at the same time the project brings additional funds into the community to spend on community projects then it's a win-win-win all around."

At an event organised by GLENRAC last month a pair of University of Sydney academics said most of the benefits of the renewable energy boom had been "privatised" into the hands of a few landholders that hosted the actual power generators. One of the biggest community gripes, they said, was power prices hadn't dropped.

The questionnaire, sponsored by Glen Innes Community Centre Inc, will stay open for about a month.

The survey asks whether individuals are eligible to take advantage of a state government program to be introduced next year, which will offer up an interest free loan of up to $22,000 for a solar and battery system. 'Empowering homes' will only be available for owner-occupiers.

It also gauges interest in helping to develop some model of community-based renewable energy in Glen Innes.

It would be open to residents of Deepwater and Emmaville, but stop at the border of the Glen Innes Severn Shire, according to the Community Centre President.

It's early days and Mr McNamara is quick to emphasise the Community Centre does not want to impose a model or approach on the community.

But one serious option is Glen Innes Inc, a community-owned virtual power plant. Several small homeowner generators would pool together into a system greater than the sum of its parts, creating power that would be enough to power Glen Innes, with any excess sold back into the grid.

"If it's community based and commonly owned then what you can do is any profit doesn't go into the pockets of big business in Sydney, it actually stays here to support local people and to support local projects."

He pointed to Hepburn Wind Farm, Australia's first community-owned renewable power plant, as an example of the potential behind the idea. The model is also very common in Germany and Denmark.

An alternative model is to raise money to buy a piece of a larger plant, or to bulk buy solar panels and batteries to gain economies of scale for individual owners.

Uralla entrepreneur and Federal Independent candidate Adam Blakester has long run a bulk buy scheme called Farming the Sun.

One of the biggest benefits of local power generation is a reduction in power diffusion. Electricity loses charge if transmitted over distance, which increases cost.