Mik Aidt, host of The Sustainable Hour on 94.7FM The Pulse at 11.00 am Wednesdays, introduced the event.
There was much excitement in the room and a big crowd. All were thinking - is this the moment that will crystallise a big community renewables project in the Geelong region? We heard four experts, who had interlocking experience and perspectives.
Martin May had been there and done that, being former Director and Treasurer of Hepburn Wind, Australia's first community owned renewable energy generator. He also has over 30 years experience in financial markets, management and funds management. Martin could see the issue from both sides - he had been part of the community effort to get Hepburn Wind off the ground, and he had witnessed the enormous volunteer effort. On the other hand he didn't want us to think of community renewables as just an altruistic activity - it should stack up as a viable investment which brings financial returns to those who participate. Martin works with Locals Into Victoria's Environment (LIVE) who have launched a platform consisting of three solar projects.
Alex Houlston is director and co-founder of Energy for the People and The People's Solar. He combines business acumen with a keen focus on social justice, and disruptive business models. Many of his projects have a social impact, relating to areas such as social housing, schools and aged care.
Aaron Lewtas is the President of the Surf Coast Energy Group (SCEG), where he's been investigating community solar projects for the last couple of years. He is also owner/director of local solar business Green Energy Options. Aaron discussed the outcome from the first Community Energy Conference in Canberra on 16-17 June and about SCEGs community solar project. Here we saw how some of the ideas and models described by other speakers could be applied in a local context.
Andrew Thaler is the new owner of Singleton Solar, committed to refurbishing the Singleton Solar Farm which was once among the largest solar energy generators in the Southern Hemisphere. Andrew has worked in a variety of jobs, including most recently scrap metal. His wife wanted him to stop punishing his body with hard manual labour, and he wanted make a difference, so what better way than to buy up a run-down solar farm (which should pay for itself once up and running!). His vision is to reinvigorate and repair the Singleton Solar Farm, making it one of the first major “community participation” Solar PV sites in Australia. His message on this was basically - "if you are having trouble working out how to get started, talk to me - I have already got plenty of solar panels, I already have permits, and I want to work with you".
The excitement was palpable in the room, and before the night had finished one member of the audience had already tweeted that the roof of their business premises could be the site of the first community solar facility in Geelong! The discussion rolled on from Beav's Bar's functions room, to the Indian restaurant over the road, and is continuing to this day!