Community Energy Retailer for NSW Northern Rivers

Northern Rivers NSWAn exciting initiative to create Australia’s first community owned electricity retailer has been given the green light.

A community retailer offers energy to local customers at competitive rates, supports local renewable generation and allows residents to participate and own the business. It is similar to a normal retailer which sells electricity and issues bills but differs in where the electricity comes from and who shares in the ownership of the retailing entity. Examples are common overseas but not yet tested in Australia.

To kick start this initiative a call for tenders to develop a business plan will be announced in August, with the plan to be developed by mid 2015. The business plan will need to provide a fair price for renewable generation matched to local demand, create local enterprise and provide energy security for the Northern Rivers. The plan will also address how a community retailer could help overcome structural and economic barriers to regional renewable energy.

The project is led by the Total Environment Centre together with a consortium including Starfish and Southern Cross University, Sustain Norther Rivers (Energy Working Group), NSW Trade and Investment, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and the North Coast Energy Forum.

Funding has been secured for the preparation of the business plan to be accompanied by an application to the regulator for a retail licence, with the expectation that a retailer could be up and running within 12 months.

The timing of pursuing a Community Energy Retailer for the Northern Rivers is linked with Australia’s highest residential and business uptake of Solar Pv, Lismore City Council’s 100% Renewable Energy Master Plan and strong community support ~ particularly evidenced by the North Coast Energy Forum and Sustain Northern Rivers.

Media coverage of the launch:
Community energy retailer to take on Australia’s big three | REnew Economy
People power takes on big energy retailers | Echonet Daily

Inaugural Community Energy Congress SUCCESS

Community Energy Congress

The culmination of nearly two years of work for Australia’s inaugural Community Energy Congress was rewarded with a sell out success, with more than 350 delegates gathering at the National Library in Canberra.

In the words of Embark, a member of the Organising Committee: “… the participants gathered across 4 days to share, learn and build a strong movement for our emerging sector. The Congress provided a beacon of hope in the midst of the political storm around renewable energy.”

A key part to building the movement was the deliberative democracy process applied to the new National Community Energy Strategy. The Strategy is being finalised and will be published shortly. Several dozen new strategic initiatives were also brought to the Congress, with dozens of delegates expressing interest to take ongoing involvement with their implementation.

The Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE) was officially launched as part of the Congress, and expressions of interest are now being taken for membership.

Check out the Congress Harvest site for copies of the presentations as well as a fantastic photographic essay of the event. You can also see a sample of the significant media coverage which was achieved.

Starfish would especially like to acknowledge the Institute for Sustainable Futures for their extraordinary leadership in creating the Congress, particularly their lead staff and researchers ~ Nicky Ison and Edward Langham.

Starfish is proud to have been a member of the Congress Organising Committee. Starfish is also a founding member of C4CE.


The City of Canning’s approach to sustainability

10 minutes to spare? An animated Australian sustainability video, from the City of Canning, WA sent in by Cameron Love from a green light*.

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Hockey favoured to beat bull in challenge

Good onya, Joe! — img src Wikipedia

I don’t know how confused most Australian’s were by Joe Hockey’s recent attack on wind turbines, but I for one was rather unsettled. This feeling was exacerbated by media revelations that Joe, who is remodelling himself as Australia’s stoic financial saviour, is having private and undisclosed meetings with big business. It’s possible to imagine, on a purely hypothetical level of course, that some of these secretive get togethers are with groups that have a vested interest in seeing renewable energy, at the very least, restrained. In my opinion Joe’s comments were utterly unwarranted and misguided, especially in the the light of the ACT Government’s goal of a 90% renewable electricity supply by 2020. Why Joe feels the way he does, and why he made those comments, will probably only ever be known by a very small and select group of people.

The funny thing is that Luke Osbourne, the man whose wind turbines raise Joe’s blood pressure so much on his way to parliament, has challenged the Treasurer to a fight with his prize bull ‘George’, who by the way has “lived peacefully under the turbines for years”. The details are sketchy, but one could assume the winner will be the one that can produce the most bull-dust … or perhaps something else … we’ll just have to wait and see.

Communities must drive switch to clean energy

Australia will continue to lag behind countries like the United States and Germany in heeding the United Nations’ latest call to urgently switch to clean sources of energy unless the community energy sector is allowed to thrive, according to a senior researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney.

UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures researcher, Nicola Ison, said community-owned renewable energy generation in towns and cities around Australia could stimulate regional development, provide more resilient and inexpensive energy security and significantly contribute to climate mitigation targets.

Nicola Ison

Nicola Ison

Ms Ison said a growing number of communities and councils were recognising the need for renewable energy generation, but there were significant regulatory and institutional barriers that needed to be overcome.

“Across the world renewable energy is changing the way citizens and organisations think about and use energy. In the United States, more than 1,500 wind farms are owned by communities across 27 states and, in Germany, customers own two thirds of all renewable energy generated.

“Councils, as large energy users in communities and facilitators of local action in their own right, can play an increasingly important role in this transition.”

The City of Sydney has recognised the potential of community energy in its roadmap to move the city towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had again underlined the extreme urgency of action on climate change.

“Addressing climate change will require action at all levels. Empowering communities to develop their own local, renewable energy projects will help deliver more clean energy,” Cr Moore said.

Community-owned models of power generation are popular in regional areas overseas. A leading renewable energy village in Germany, Wildpoldsried, generates over 300% of the electricity it needs from a mix of wind, solar PV, biogas and hydro power plants.

Mayor Arno Zengerle, instrumental in the village’s 10-year transition to self-sufficient renewable energy, will visit Australia to encourage Australian towns to achieve the same success.

Mr Zengerle will address the Community Energy Congress, which will bring together community energy groups from around the country for the first time.  The congress, to be held in Canberra on 16-17 June, aims to address the large gap in support for community energy between other countries and Australia.

CORENA – Riding, walking and mowing their way to the Congress

Bill Gresham, a member of Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia (CORENA), describes the ‘hands-on, can-do’ attitude of this group in helping fund community energy projects … inspirational to say the least. Check them out at

Bill will be attending the Community Energy Congress in Canberra 16-17 July 2014.


Social Change for Cats… and Societies

This is a neat way of describing just how Starfish creates change for regional sustainability.
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Future can be better (or worse) than persistent ‘nasal inflammation’ …

If we are to project into a future that considers ways of being that include all life forms we have to change direction NOW. There is no way south of Hobart that could endorse our current environmental approach. I’m struggling with the idea that as a race we are pretty much crapping where we eat. We are the only remaining species of the hominids and I now find myself trying to explain to my 6 year old son that Lions (Yes, those big scary things that live in Africa) are soon to become completely extinct in the wild … at least in West Africa.

Check out China …

Undoubtedly humans have an enormous ability to transform this planet … we just need to start doing it constructively not destructively. It also seems that, at least here in Australia, that the positive change required will need to come from the bottom up.

There’s many more, but these are some groups looking toward a positive, community driven, bottom-up transformation:

  • The Surf Coast Energy Group – a diverse group of residents from the surf coast of Victoria (Australia) united by a concern for climate change and sustainability, and doing something about it at a local level
  • The North Coast Energy forum – developing a comprehensive strategy for transitioning the North Coast to sustainable energy, including increasing local energy generation, storage and encouraging onservation and efficiency
  • The Coalition for Community Energy – realising a vision of communities across Australia benefiting from shared ownership of innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; taking an active role in creating a sustainable and resilient energy future for Australia

Sustainability can be cool.

These are a couple of of young guys from the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN – It’s always inspiring to see young people having a crack … and a good crack at that.

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This guy is a bit of a legend … Alex Fried – 2013 Brower Youth Award Winner.
Have a look at how he’s progressing … go you good thing.

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Australia’s Second Community Wind Farm is Live

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Australia’s second community wind farm ~ Denmark Community Wind Farm ~ has officially started producing energy. Denmark follows Hepburn Wind which was Australia’s first, and both are leading more than five dozen other community energy projects which are under development across Australia. Most of these have a solar focus, however there are also several more wind farms and a few micro-hydro.

Community energy presents an incredible opportunity for rural communities. Locally owned energy brings significant economic and financial benefits, for local shareholders, supply businesses and the energy users. Renewable energy is profoundly more environmentally benign that existing fossil fuel electricity and the social dividends are significant, particularly from the focus on energy affordability and education rather than profit.

Starfish is working on several community energy projects: New England Wind, Farming the Sun, the North Coast Energy Forum and is a founding member of the Coalition for Community Energy (watch this space for news of this new initiative soon!).

Read more about Denmark Community Wind Farm here