Community solar powering aged care in Geelong

Today our Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE) project hit new heights with the announcement the Victorian Government is providing $140,000 towards our community solar investment model!

The funding will establish the first replicable community solar investment model in Victoria and enable Geelong Sustainability to co-ordinate community driven renewable energy projects in Geelong, starting with a 149kW solar investment initiative at the Multicultural Aged Care (MACS) facility.

Member for Geelong Christine Couzens announced the funding today at the aged care facility and met with members of the Geelong Sustainability and MACS. Funding for this project comes from the second round of the Victorian Government’s $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund (NEJF).

During the announcement event a number of speeches were made. Read the speeches below.

We are very excited to be here today for the official announcement of our funding for the first replicable community solar investment model in Victoria!

In a nutshell, I’ll give an overview of the What, Why & Who

Our most ambitious and effective project is driven through our CORE Task Group, CORE means Community Owned Renewable Energy. This task group began in April 2015 following member research wanting us to lead on Community Energy. Ten to twenty volunteers have been meeting monthly since to learn, share knowledge & develop expertise.

What motivates the task group and committee? We want to Energise Geelong: To Switch, Reduce, Buy Solar, Donate and Invest. We know the transition is happening, the only question is how fair & fast will it be? We want more renewable energy in Geelong! Led by our community, real people power, energy democracy by us and for us. Back to the future where we have control of our power

The CORE task group has evolved gradually developing expertise, networks and projects.
At South Geelong Primary School a crowdfunding campaign raised $13,000 and installed 9.25kW with community dividend.
In developing our community solar financing model we identified the aged care facilities are ideal host sites – very high energy usage and very high community benefit is possible through community solar projects.

I’d like to acknowledge Maria Bohan, who Dads is a resident at MACS and introduced us to this amazing organisation which sets out to put a Twinkle in the Wrinkle.

Environmental leadership is essential if we are to respond to the enormous challenge of climate change.

I’m proud to lead this growing family of committed volunteers, who are driving grassroots change in our community. I must mention our CORE project Coordinator, Dan Cowdell who is just amazing – we’d like to clone you! We’ll hear about the project from Dan shortly.

We greatly appreciate the collaborative partnership with MACS. The Management and Board who have chosen to collaborate – especially Joy Leggo, CEO and Deputy CEO, Alwin Gallina

We wish to acknowledge the significant leadership shown by the Andrew’s State Government on environmental issues such as fracking and on climate change. The Victorian Renewable Energy Target of 40% by 2025 will drive a clean green transition, which will be a vital economic boost in regional areas.

We would not be assembled here today, if not for the support provided to community groups like ours through the NEJF, which is enabling us to realise our ambitions.

In 2016 we received a $48K grant in Round 1 of the NEJF to conduct a Scoping Study into a sustainable and replicable business model for community solar projects. We completed that project in March 2017. It enabled us to prepare our business case and our first project with here MACS.
During my career at Deakin, I came across an insightful equation about performance. Performance = Ability x Motivation x Opportunity. Groups of people can deliver superior achievements where they are motivated to develop the required skills and knowledge and given the opportunity to apply them.

This project has been born from the combined efforts of people motivated to respond to the climate change emergency and prepared to develop their skills and knowledge to deliver real results BUT most importantly helped by organisations like MACS and the Victorian State Government to do!

Now it’s my pleasure to Introduce Christine Couzens, Member for Geelong who is today representing Minister D’Ambrosio.

It’s great to be here today for this exciting announcement that’s going to mean lower energy costs for the Multicultural Aged Care facility, opportunities for local investment, and less of the emissions causing climate change.

I’d like to congratulate Geelong Sustainability Group on their innovative approach to delivering a community solar project. And I’d like to congratulate MACS for having the vision to be a partner in this project.

The Victorian Government is committed to providing real energy solutions for the future of Victoria. Renewable energy sources, like solar power, are now the cheapest and of course, the cleanest forms of electricity available.

That’s why I am pleased to provide Geelong Sustainability Group with a $140 000 grant to establish Victoria’s first community investment model. For nimble, forward thinking organisations, like Geelong Sustainability Group, they’re also an opportunity to lead the pack on renewable energy generation.

It’s a great plan – installing a 149 Kilowatt solar energy system on the roof of MACS, getting people to invest and giving them a return through the facility’s 10-year lease arrangement.

In the face of climate change and population growth, the Victorian Government understands we need to take new and even novel approaches to manage our future power use and supplies.

Community initiatives like this one, with the backing of the New Energy Jobs Fund are a great example of that. Through the fund, we are supporting long-term sustainable jobs, driving economic development, getting community participation, driving the uptake of renewable energy generation, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, supporting innovation in new energy technologies, and building Victoria’s new energy technology capability and capacity.

This is part of the second round of funding which will see 21 different projects receive a total of 6.8-million-dollars. Through the New Energy Jobs Fund, we are securing Victoria’s future as a competitive, innovative and outward looking economy.

Renewables are the future and through initiatives like this we are improving Victoria’s renewable energy capabilities.

MACS will ultimately own the system and save around 29-thousand dollars this year alone on power bills.

The Victorian Government funding will be used to set up the company that will drive the project.

We are fighting climate change through meaningful community engagement, protecting our environment for future generations.

This is a fantastic opportunity for our region and a great example of the many benefits innovative approaches to cheap, clean energy can have for communities.

I hope it will be the first of many successful community solar projects from the Geelong Sustainability Group, and will inspire others to follow suit.

Congratulations to you all.

I am delighted to represent the Directors and indeed the Community of MACS this morning at the announcement of funding from the New Energy Jobs Fund to Geelong Sustainability Group’s Community Energy & CORE Solar Project.

To Christine Couzens Member for Geelong I extend to you both a warm welcome to MACS. I know you have been to MACS before but it was lovely this morning to welcome you at the entrance of our Piazza. We were disappointed that Minister D’Ambrosio was unable to attend, but delighted to have our local Member. To representatives from the Geelong Sustainability Group, this is most likely your first visit to MACS, so welcome, I hope you have an opportunity to have a look around and explore our Piazza. We have undertaken significant building works at MACS over the last four years and our ability to now partner with the Geelong Sustainability Group through the solar investment project will continue our goal of constantly looking at ways we can care for our environment, enhance our services and keep an eye on that financial bottom line.

I would like to, at this point, acknowledge and thank Maria Bohan, a member of the MACS Community (we have the pleasure of looking after Maria’s Dad), for starting us on this journey with the Geelong Sustainability Group by way of an informal introduction. The rest you could say is history!

Over many months Alwin Gallina, the Deputy CEO, worked with Vicki and her dedicated and passionate Directors to bring this proposal to the application stage. We were also most impressed by the knowledge and expertise of Dan Cowdell when he presented to our Board. It is a most exciting project for MACS to be part of not only from an ongoing sustainability perspective, but also sending a clear message to the broader community that through partnerships, we can all take some responsibility in caring for our environment.

We look forward to being able to tell our broader community about this exciting initiative and are eager to get the project under way. The Green Group here at MACS are thrilled with the idea of MACS becoming more self-sufficient. Up until now we have taken small steps, vegetable & herb gardens, composting, worm farms, energy efficient lighting and water tanks. You could say that this project is a major environmental step for MACS and we are delighted.

Thank you to the State Government and the Department of Energy, Environment & Climate Change for funding Geelong Sustainability Group for this project. Thank you also to Geelong Sustainability Group for offering us this partnership. We look forward to working with you, not only for our environment but as a demonstration of what a passionate & committed group of Volunteers and a not for profit community based organisation can achieve together.

I look forward to inviting you back when this project has been completed.

I’ve had the honour of chairing the CORE team and working on this project as project co-ordinator over the last year. It’s a tremendous milestone for us today!

I’d like to briefly talk about the Community Solar Investment Model we are establishing and give you a snapshot of the first project here at MACS.

Our Community Solar Investment Model will be a Victorian first, and sets a new paradigm for community energy projects in the region. It also sets up a win-win-win scenario. Community investors get a return on investment, local organisations get solar for zero upfront costs, and of course the environmental outcomes with more clean energy in Geelong.

The model will see community owned solar installations on business and not-for-profit organisations.

What’s more is it’s replicable, once our framework for these projects is established we aim to repeat, repeat, repeat. This much needed funding from the government will let us setup our model and charge up Geelong with community solar!
We have identified potential for many more community solar installations following our first project.

How does it work I hear you asking, Geelong Sustainability will install a solar system on the roof of a local Geelong business. Community investors fund the solar system by purchasing shares in the project. The local business agrees to lease the use of the solar system from Geelong Sustainability in return for a monthly fee. The revenue generated goes back to community investors until the system is paid off. The local business is financially better off benefiting from solar energy generation and cheaper electricity bills. At the end of the term the solar system is handed over to the local business.
We think it is a very innovative model.

I am so pleased that our first project is at MACS, from the first meeting it was evident that the organisation had values that aligned with ours. The herbs growing from a pot plant at the front door was a bit of a giveaway, it was clear the staff and management had strong environmental values.
For us it is an ideal partnership, and we are already working on other sustainability initiatives such as Cycling without age.

The project will here at MACS will consist of 149kW of solar in total, 99kW on the Residential Care buildings behind us and 50kW on Bella Chara the double story building by Weddell Road.
It will consist of over 500 solar panels, to put the scale of this project into perspective a large solar system on a house is 5kW with around 20 panels. This is certainly an excellent undertaking and a fantastic commitment to sustainability by MACS.

MACS will see bill savings reductions of 25% and 22% with over 29thousand dollars saved per year.
With subsequent electricity price rises this project can’t come soon enough. MACS will get the benefit of Solar with no upfront costs, instead paying of the system over the 10 year project term.
Where the savings on energy bills will outweigh the community solar lease fees. At the end of the project term 10 years will fully own the solar system with a further useable life and full benefit for another 15-20 years.

This project will involve many community members, we already have nearly one hundred people who have expressed an interest to be part of the first project. We expect up to 20 individuals from the Geelong community to fund this first project, each investing approximately $10,000 each.
In doing so they will receiving a return on their investment and will be throwing their support behind this local community energy project and supporting renewable energy and environmental outcomes.

There are numerous environmental outcomes from this project, it will generate 577kWh of clean energy per day, that is over 210,605 kWh per year.

And in terms of reduced carbon emissions that equates to 210 Tonnes of CO2 per year. That’s equivalent to taking 60 cars off the road per year, or planting 1474 trees each year.
But beyond this the potential to educating the many thousands of people in and around Geelong who have connections to MACS about sustainability and the benefits of localised clean energy generation is invaluable.

In rounding off I’m sure you can tell how excited we are about this project. On behalf of our CORE team I’d like to thank the State Government and our local member Christine Couzens for supporting this community initiative, and we very much look forward to working with our project partners MACS, the staff and management to implement this project.
Thank you.

The project at MACS will consist of 149kW of solar in total, 99kW on the Residential Care building and 50kW on Bella Chara. It will consist of over 500 solar panels.

It will reduce emissions by 210 Tonnes of CO2 per year. That’s equivalent to taking 60 cars off the road per year, or planting 1474 trees each year.

We are expecting the project to be open for community investment early in 2018, and the solar system to be installed by mid-2018.

We have a register of interest for community members who would like more information about the investment offer when it is ready in early 2018. Register your interest in the CORE project here.

Community Solar Project in the News

Investors back aged care solar project
Geelong Advertiser – Tuesday, 10 Oct 2017 – Page 4

GRASSROOTS investors are largely bankrolling a largescale solar energy project at a Geelong aged care facility.

The model, a Victorian-first initiative, will be launched at the Multicultural Aged Care Services (MACS) complex in North Geelong.

More than 500 solar panels will be installed at the site, delivering a total of 149kW of energy .

The $402,700 venture is being led by Geelong Sustainability , which has high hopes of rolling out further projects across the city.

“We have identified potential for many more community solar installations following our first project,” Geelong Sustainability project co-ordinator Dan Cowdell said.

The State Government has lent its support to the community solar investment model, providing $140,000 towards the MACS development .

It will mostly be funded by local investors, with 20 individuals expected to contribute about $10,000 each.

Mr Cowdell said businesses agreed to lease the use of the solar system from Geelong Sustainability in return for a monthly fee.

The revenue generated goes back to community investors until the system is paid off.

At the end of the term, the solar energy system is handed over to the local business

“It sets up a win-win-win scenario,” Mr Cowdell said.

“Community investors get a return on investment, local organisations get solar for zero upfront costs, and of course there is the environmental outcome with more clean energy in Geelong.”

Geelong MP Christine Couzens said the project would cut MACS’ energy costs by more than $29,000 in the first year alone.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our region,” she said.

“This project will contribute towards delivering the renewable energy target of 40 per cent by 2025, increasing the uptake of renewable energy generation and reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

State funds push for solar savings
Geelong Independent – Friday, 13 Oct 2017 – Page 15

A $403,000 “community solar investment” will save an aged care facility $29,000 on electricity annually, according to the office of Geelong MP Christine Couzens.

State Government contributed $140,000 to the Geelong Sustainability Group project at Multicultural Aged Care Services (MACS), her office confirmed.

Geelong Sustainability “hit new heights” with the State funding, co-ordinator Dan Cowdell said.
The group now planned similar projects at other Geelong businesses and not-for-profit organisations, he said.

Under the group’s Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE) model participants leased solar systems from “community investors”, Mr Cowdell explained.

Participants saved on electricity during the lease term then owned the system outright after the final payment, he said.

“This project really is win-win-win. Community investors get a return on investment, local organisations get solar for zero upfront costs, and of course the environment wins with more clean energy generated in Geelong.”

The aged care project would remove 210 to tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, “equivalent to taking 60 cars off the road per year or planting 1474 trees each year”, Mr Cowdell said.

Ms Couzens said Victoria’s “first replicable community solar investment model” tapped the state’s $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund.
“We are fighting climate change through meaningful community engagement, protecting our environment for future generations,” Ms Couzens said.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our region. This project will contribute towards delivering the renewable energy target of 40 per cent by 2025, increasing the uptake of renewable energy generation and reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Lara MP John Eren said the project demonstrated the state government’s commitment to “providing real energy solutions for the future of Victoria”.

“Through the New Energy Jobs Fund we are securing Victoria’s future as a competitive, innovative and outward-looking economy,” Mr Eren said.

“Renewables are the future of our energy mix and through initiatives like this we are improving Victoria’s renewable energy capabilities.”