Community organisations in the Grampians region will benefit from renewable energy through reduced operating costs and improved resilience.
The state government has announced $6.5 million funding to establish seven Community Power Hubs across Victoria to help deliver renewable energy projects for community organisations.
Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions (BREAZE) will manage the Grampians Community Power Hub, covering 11 local government areas from Bacchus Marsh to the South Australian border.
Promoting the uptake of renewable energy is the single most important act people can take to act on climate change.Mary Debrett, BREAZE president
BREAZE president Mary Debrett said the community power hub would accelerate the region's transition to a renewable energy future.
"Decarbonising the economy is the fundamental, clear, straightforward action we could all be taking to reduce emissions," she said.
"It is the one thing we know that is going to make a huge difference.
"We have got to make people aware of that and how to do it, that is what the hub is all about."
BREAZE previously led the Ballarat Community Power Hub, which was one of three community power hubs operating in Victoria as a pilot project from 2017 to 2020.
Fifteen projects were delivered across the three regions, saving more than $340,000 in energy costs and reducing carbon emissions by almost 2000 tonnes.
This included the installation of solar on McCallum Disability Service properties and feasibility studies for Ballarat Cemeteries on solar installation and converting garden equipment to electric.
An energy cooperative for the Mollongghip community and installation of solar at East Grampians Health Services were other Ballarat Community Power Hub projects.
Ms Debrrett said the first step for the new Grampians Community Power Hub was to engage with communities and encourage organisations to consider renewable energy projects and the benefits.
She said groups to benefit could include kindergartens, publicly owned retirement villages, not for profits, social housing, disability housing, men's sheds and community day-care centres.
Any community group that owns a building such as a historical society could be a part of the program.
"The benefits include cheaper energy and for a not for profit organisation and community organisations, that is going to free up funds for them to invest in their core activities," Ms Debrett said.
"That is a pretty attractive prospect for a lot of groups."
Possible projects could include the installation of solar panels, batteries or a community-owner solar farm.
Ms Debrett said renewable energy projects helped build community resilience.
"When a community is producing a lot of its power, if the grid goes down during a bushfire and a community suffers a blackout, it is not in such dire straits as it would be otherwise because there is backup," she said.
"Some of the communities across the Grampians are quite small so having a battery to which everybody's rooftop solar contributes and being able to draw from that when they need does give them resilience."
Community organisations will make applications for projects and a panel will assess and select projects to proceed to feasibility stage.
An energy specialist will complete a business and technical case for select projects and a number will be delivered depending on funding availability.
"It is starting a chain reaction I think," Ms Debrett said.
"Once people in the community see one group get involved in a project, cut their costs and achieve something, then others will follow.
"There is a training element to it, it is not just general awareness.
"It is getting the skills to undertake negotiations that are required, contacting the network provider, engaging with Solar Victoria, those processes are quite a steep learning curve for a lot of people who have not done it before.
"Once they get on that path they become advocates hopefully for the whole sector of renewable energy and the importance of transitioning."
Three BREAZE volunteers will be the driving force behind community engagement and will work to hire a paid project manager for the power hub.
BREAZE has partnered with Hepburn Wind to deliver the power hub in Hepburn and to share expertise.
Ms Debrett said the power hub would be driven by passion and commitment from volunteers.
"Promoting the uptake of renewable energy is the single most important act people can take to act on climate change," she said.
"We don't have any alternative. We must take action on climate change.
"Working at the grassroots level to empower our local communities with the knowledge and support they need is crucial if we are to make the transition to a low carbon, clean energy future."
The Grampians Community Power Hub will contribute to achieving the Victorian government target to halve carbon emissions by 2030.
Six other community power hubs will be hosted in Loddon Mallee, Barwon South West, Hume, Gippsland, Melbourne and Great Yarra Valley and Ranges.
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio said community power hubs would be a 'one-stop-shop for anyone after advice or ideas about how to get their business or community organisation more energy efficient'.
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