CHAIR of the Energy Innovation Co-operative (EIC) Susan Davies emphasised the benefits to Council, community and the EIC of working together towards shared sustainability goals in saving energy and using alternative sources of energy generation at a briefing to South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday.
Following the EIC’s success in obtaining funding as a ‘Solar Hub’ organisation, the bulk of Ms Davies’ briefing related to the EIC’s plans to assist households, farmers and businesses in South Gippsland, Bass Coast and Cardinia Shires to obtain –predominantly – solar to grid power installations.
Ms Davies explained, “There are a lot of people out there who want to do more to be sustainable but don’t quite know how to go about it.
She said the Co-op would benefit community and individuals by:
· Guiding people through the process of solar installation and grid connection so they chose the best solutions to meet their needs.
· Talking to the local energy retailers about solar power connections, with the Co-op’s member numbers giving strength to its voice.
· Acting as information brokers, including production of a business directory so that people know who to contact for good quality products and who are the local, accredited electricians for solar installations.
· Bulk buying reliable and quality solar panels that may not prove the cheapest option at the installation stage but will be “good value” in the long term.
· Running training so that local electricians could obtain accreditation in solar installation.
Considering that dairy farmers have both large power bills to pay and large areas of shed roofing on which solar panels could be located, Ms Davies anticipated that they might be a group keen to take up this alternative source of energy boosting in the face of expected significant rises in mains electricity charges in 12 to 18 months time.
‘While we have to be careful of the economics of what we do, our priority is community welfare,” Ms Davies stated.
Membership of the EIC, which aims to take community-based, not-for-profit social enterprise taking grassroots action on increasing the use of alternative energy forms, is currently $12 per year plus a $1 share purchase.
Being a Co-operative, Ms Davies urged Council “to think of us as a mini Murray Goulburn, with a six-member Board of Directors and in time a prospectus for projects with shares and dividends, although 50% of profit would be for community benefit.”
Besides assisting Council to reach its own sustainability targets once it has finalised its Sustainability Strategy, Ms Davies believed the EIC’s flexibility meant it was able to “jump quickly to opportunities that could be useful to Council”.
She warmly thanked Council for the letters of support it had provided on EIC’s behalf for every grant application made so far, including the Solar Hub funding, participation in the Social Traders’ ‘Crunch’ business plan training project and a proposal to convert farm four-wheelers to electricity power.
“We have pulled in almost $400,000 in grants since starting up in 2009 and we are employing [several] people part time and hope to expand soon.” Ms Davies commented.
“We’ll also have a web site soon and will be able to earn some advertising revenue.”
As more information and products related to emerging alternative energy technologies become available, the EIC intends to follow up on them on the community’s behalf.
Currently, the EIC is working in partnership with SolarShop, so that the expertise of a well-established business which works in the region could be harnessed to help the community.