Baw Baw Shire – Solar Powered Communities

Mar 9, 2013 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Innovative Practiceand/or Service Delivery Award

Baw Baw Shire Council identified the rural community’s desire to reduce its overall energy use and environmental impact. Council also identified that the community faced a number of barriers including lack of expertise and capital to make this happen. Through Council’s leadership and passionate team led by Raj Manihar, a minimal-cost project was developed and implemented during 2011/12. The aim of the project was to assist 60 community organisations including the Arts Centre, community halls, kindergartens, recreation reserves, disability centre, bowling clubs and  schools to install solar power systems by obtaining funding and partnering with the Baw Baw Sustainability Network to deliver community education programs.

Project Objectives: Baw Baw Shire communities are feeling the impact of increasing energy prices and want to take action to reduce their energy costs and help the environment. Building off a robust community engagement program, Council, environmental team led by Raj Manihar identified community buildings and schools for the installation of solar power systems with the following objectives:

  1. To demonstrate Council’s leadership;
  2. To secure funding under the Australian and Victorian Government solar programs;
  3. To provide triple bottom-line benefits – social, environment and economic;
  4. To educate community about renewable energy and energy efficiency in partnership with the local community network – Baw Baw Sustainability Network; and
  5. To contribute to the state and national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emission and meet renewable energy targets.

Project Outcomes: The project outcomes describing the results are given below:

1.       Council’s Leadership: Baw Baw’s 2050 Community Vision – “Vibrant Community Living” encourages use of renewable energy in the Shire. Council strives to ‘lead by example’ in its own operations.

2.       Project Funding:  Council was able to secure $606,490 in funding from Australian and Victorian Governments for 60 community buildings to install a total of 242 kW of grid connected solar power.

3.       Triple Bottom Line Benefits: The triple bottom line benefits are described below:

 ü  Social: The economic savings by this project ensure the on-going feasibility of the local community facilities and schools to provide great value to the local community.

ü  Environment: The 60 solar power installations will reduce 436 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per annum or 10,000 tonnes over the life of system. The systems will generate 322 MW of clean energy per annum.

ü  Economic: The 60 solar power installations will save $80,655 per annum at current cost of electricity, reducing the energy bills for these facilities by 28%.  Over $600,000 in government funding was obtained for this project.

4.       Community Education: Both Baw Baw Shire Council and Baw Baw Sustainability Network to jointly conduct an open days and promote solar energy and energy efficiency. The joint partnership has already conducted 33 solar open days and 20 domestic energy workshops for the community.

5.       State and National Targets: The project will assist the community to transition to a low carbon future and also met the state and national greenhouse gas emissions reduction and renewable energy targets by 2020.

Innovation features of the project or services: The project was innovative with regards to the sheer number of partnerships formed, securing large amount of funds for individual buildings, manage the project in limited time and resources, and level of engagement undertaken. The project also involved working with 60 Committees, DSE and Sustainability Victoria, Baw Baw Shire Schools and its own internal staff.

Distinguishing Features of the Project: The project had no overhead costs except for staff time, and a strong community engagement focus – was developed in direct response to the community’s needs. It is a model that can easily be translated to other communities. The key to its success is the strong community support and Council commitment. This can be followed by any other Council or similar organisations, and applied to a range of issues, not just solar power and energy efficiency.

Best Practice: The solar power systems were installed using the best practice guide prepared by Clean Energy Council. The best practice technology involves selection of solar panels suitable for Gippsland environment, optimisation of solar power generation from the panels even during cloudy days, size of system, shading, temperature and use of accredited system and suppliers to ensure ongoing viability of these systems. The solar power system project acts as a mini power plant on the rooftop providing clean energy, localized electricity production and reducing the need for expensive grid infrastructure. By obtaining funding and empowering community organisations and schools to generate their own power, this project has reduced the financial burden on these groups.

Benefit to the community of the project or services: Industry figures say there has been an exponential growth in installations of solar power systems in Baw Baw Shire. Figures from the nation’s renewable energy regulator March 2012 show almost one in every nine homes in the Baw Baw Shire area has made the switch to solar power. The project has been able to assist community and schools to overcome the barriers for generating renewable energy and being more energy efficient. The project also built the capacity and profile of local groups who delivered the educational aspects of the program. The entire Baw Baw Community will benefits from the project as the solar power systems have been installed throughout the shire covering all major and small towns.

Program and project management highlighting how any barriers were overcome to achieve success: Raj has worked for over 10 years on delivery of projects for council and community buildings and brings wealth of experience and record of project delivery that is on time and within budget. He was able to secure a $606,490 in funding for 60 community buildings under the Sustainability Victoria’s Solar in Schools – Community Organisations Program, Victorian Sustainability Accord, Victorian Bush Fire Recovery Program and the National Solar Schools Program.

The major barriers associated with the program and project management were uncertainty relating to retail electricity price, carbon price, capital and ongoing maintenance costs, technical terminology, rapid changes in government policies and a general lack of awareness. To overcome these barriers, the team provided a range of information, delivered through one-to-one meetings with the committees of management, community presentations, PV demo models, prepared flyers containing FAQ and engaged BBSN to run domestic energy workshops to educate community on reading energy bills, solar PV and tips to save power and money.

Ninety-four per cent of community hall members provided extremely positive response with the project, however six per cent of the community hall members in rural towns were not initially convinced due lack of awareness of solar power. Council staff organised one to one meetings and provided information and knowledge on solar power system to bring them on board. This is a significant achievement as many of these members are now great advocates of solar power within the community.

Costs/Benefits associated with the Project :  The 60 community solar power installations will save $80,000 per annum at current cost of electricity, reducing the energy bills for these facilities by 28%.  Over $600,000 in government funding was obtained for this project.

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