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On Country renewable energy partnership gets green light.

Taungurung Land and Waters Council's Matt Burns [right] says there's a "social good" in solar investment.(Supplied: Indigo Power)

A First Nations-owned renewable energy project has been given the green light, with an agreement signed between traditional owners, community, and government in north-east Victoria.

Key points:

  • A three-way partnership is signed between traditional owners, DELWP, and Indigo Power to deliver solar power
  • Indigo Power will operate the system for 10 years, selling electricity back to the community at a reduced rate
  • After 10 years, Indigo Power will transfer ownership of the renewable system back to traditional owners at no cost


The three-way partnership brings together Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLWC), community energy company Indigo Power, and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to deliver clean energy to the DELWP Broadford office on Taungurung country.

A 17k/w 50 solar panel system will be installed at the Broadford office in north-east Victoria, funded by an investment from TLWC and managed by Indigo Power to produce up to 30 per cent of DELWP's energy needs.

TLWC chief executive officer Matthew Burns said, as traditional land managers, Taungurung had an aspiration of investing in environmentally appropriate projects.

"I had the discussion with DELWP late last year about Taungurung investing in the department's property assets on Taungurung Country," Mr Burns said.

Mr Burns credited DELWP with its willingness to make the partnership a possibility.

"This exercise has been a very big red-tape-cutting exercise to enable this to come to fruition," he said.

The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning's Broadford office will be the site of a First Nations-owned renewable energy system.(Supplied: DELWP Hume Region)

"Over the years you have conversations with departments around ideas of progressing Aboriginal interests, Aboriginal procurement, or Aboriginal engagement and there's a lot of good intent, however there often isn't the will.

"Or the policy is inhibiting projects like this to get off the ground.

"I can say without question a number of DELWP staff at all levels have made a concerted effort to make changes to policies, which from our end is really pleasing."

Regional transition to renewable energy


The Broadford renewable energy agreement is part of the Hume Region Renewable Energy Roadmap project, which was established last year to support north-east Victorian communities' transition to renewable energy.

Project manager Tom Brown said DELWP has been working hard to build up partnerships and relationships with traditional land owners.

"Taungurung are the traditional owners of that country and the sun has always shone on their country," Mr Brown said.

Taungurung Elder Shane Monk performs a smoking ceremony at the signing of the Broadford community energy partnership.(Supplied: DELWP Hume Region)

"This power station agreement is an opportunity for the department to work with those traditional owners with the support of Indigo Power to capture that renewable resource that's always been here.

"This will power our office on Taungurung country and support Taungurung to make some local investments that don't damage the county and that are long-term sustainable projects."

Community enterprise leading push to renewables

Indigo Power is facilitating the Broadford project through its community-owned renewable energy model.

How the model works:

  • Indigo Power sets up a solar power system on a customer's site, with money invested by the community.
  • It owns and operates the solar system for 10 years, selling the electricity generated by the panels back to the customer at a reduced rate.
  • During this time, the community investors receive a commercial return on their investment.
  • At the end of the 10-year contract, Indigo Power transfers the ownership of the renewable system to the host site at no cost.

Indigo Power managing director Ben McGowan said it was a model that benefits everyone, as well as the environment.

"Taungurung investment, Indigo Power owned, and DELWP is the customer, a really nice three-way partnership," Mr McGowan said.

"Taungurung can have sustainable investment on their Country that benefits them and DELWP can partner with them to make that happen, but also do that in a way that benefits them in that they get clean energy at a reduced rate."

Taungurung Land and Waters Council, DELWP Hume Region, and Indigo Power celebrate the signing of their renewable energy partnership, with a traditional smoking ceremony.(Supplied: DELWP Hume Region)


On Country sustainable income

In October 2018 the Victorian Government, the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, and the Taungurung traditional owner group signed a suite of agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic), recognising the Taungurung people as the traditional owners of the land.

It was the first time a native title issue had been resolved outside of the Federal Court.

As a not-for-profit organisation that makes decisions around Taungurung Country, Mr Burns said it was crucial TLWC had long-term sustainable income streams to provide services not covered by grant funding.

"Being able to do more things for our communities — whether it is in the cultural space, health or wellbeing, education to break generational disadvantage, other things like that — that we are not funded for," Mr Burns said.

"These are core goals of ours and an expectation of our members of the Taungurung people to enable us to offer those things.


This article was originally published online HERE.

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A community-owned energy retailer has launched in the North East

A community-owned energy retailer has launched in the North East, aimed at helping more communities generate renewable electricity, and reduce costs.

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Old Beechworth Gaol home to new community-led clean-energy project

A people-powered revolution is taking place in north-east Victoria with the region's first community-led energy network going live.

Key points:

  • Community-owned energy projects allow site owners to access clean energy at reduced rates without having to buy or maintain the infrastructure
  • Indigo Power Manager Ben McGowan says community energy groups are springing up across Australia
  • It is hoped that north-east Victoria can powered by 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years


The company behind the project, Indigo Power, launched with a symbolic switching on of the first community-owned solar power system at the Old Beechworth Gaol in Beechworth — its first official customer.

Community-owned energy projects allow site owners to access clean energy at reduced rates without having to buy or maintain the infrastructure.

The panels at the Old Beechworth Gaol were paid for by philanthropists and community members who have invested in Indigo Power.

The former prison has a contract with Indigo Power, which sells the energy generated by the panels back to the jail at a reduced rate while recovering the cost of the fit-out for its investors.

At the end of the roughly 10-year contract, Indigo Power will give the system back to the gaol which will then benefit from free clean energy for the remainder of the system's life, typically 25 years.

The 89-panel, 30-kilowatt solar system at the old prison complex will deliver roughly 55 per cent of the site's energy needs.

Energy a key election issue

Indigo Power Manager Ben McGowan said community-energy projects were becoming more common.

"It's great to be able to bring this model, that's been developed elsewhere, to Victoria," Mr McGowan said.

"It makes a lot of sense, in that the community can come together and buy shares, offset that upfront capital cost, get the solar panels on the roof, deliver an immediate electricity saving for the host site while recovering the capital costs and then pass the system on.

"We're working with a few more sites and hoping to get a few more going soon."

Over the past decade the energy debate has divided politics, with climate change and renewable energy shaping up to be key election issues.

Indigo Power said it planned to power north-east Victoria with 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years.

Indigo's Power board member Ann Telford said renewables were the way of the future.

"I believe eventually the whole country will be running on renewable energy.

"Just look around and see how many roofs have solar panels on them already.

"This is a movement that is unstoppable," she said. 'Skin in the game.'

Members of Indigo Power, Totally Renewable Yackandandah, Indigo Shire Council and the community celebrate.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Eliza Beck)

Indigo Power was born from Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY).

A volunteer-run community group formed in 2014, it began with the bold goal of powering the small Victorian town of Yackandandah with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022.

In 2017, TRY established Australia's first mini-grid project, partnering with Mondo Power and AusNet Services, linking 169 homes with renewable-energy systems.

The homes in each mini-grid neighbourhood use rooftop solar and battery storage, which is monitored and managed by a computer device called an "ubi".

The Victorian-made "ubi" computer system, links homes and businesses, creating the mini-grid network that enables electricity trading.

It is a model now being adopted by other communities, looking to take control of their energy futures and make real change to reduce carbon emissions.

Retiring Member for Indi Cathy McGowan has championed TRY's work and is encouraged by funding earmarked in the 2019/20 federal Budget for micro-grid feasibility studies for regional Australia.

"Right across this electorate we have community groups doing significant work around climate change," Ms McGowan said.

"This community has skin in the game."

Old Beechworth Gaol's Clayton Neil (L) and Indigo Power's Ben McGowan.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Eliza Beck)


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Indigo Power renewable energy roadshow travels across North East

The retailer's plan was always to hold a series of community meetings in different towns to explain what it is and how it is different to other energy companies.

Its customers generate power for their own homes and buy and sell with others in the region, with the rest of the required energy coming from the grid for now.

Indigo Power managing director Ben McGowan said the community energy retailer, based in Beechworth, was about taking action on climate change and investing in renewable energy.

"Electricity is the largest driver of climate change and takes $190 million out of our region each year. Together we can change that," he said.

"We wanted to show that local communities could make a change.

"By setting up Indigo Power we are demonstrating that regional communities are leading on transitioning our grid to renewable energy, and keeping electricity dollars in our region at the same time.

"Indigo Power is rolling out community energy hubs right across the region, offering a chance for residents to join in and share locally generated renewable energy with their neighbours."

Half of the retailer's profits will go back to its shareholders and the other half will be invested in energy projects in the region.

The energy roadshow will travel to some of the communities hit by bushfires over the past few months - last month the retailer stated the month-long delay was "to allow communities the time to recover and heal".

There will be 14 sessions over the next month, starting at Cheshunt Town Hall at 6pm on Wednesday.

Other venues include Wodonga on Thursday, Corryong on March 19, Mount Beauty on March 20 and Wangaratta on March 25.

For the full list, visit indigopower.com.au/roadshow.


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Wodonga builder proves 10-star homes not so hard if you’re a quality builder to start with

Elmwood, oadonga, NSW


If you want to control the energy efficiency of your building, start by eliminating air leakage, says an award-winning home builder who has been experimenting and innovating for more than a generation.

About 40 years ago, an esky, a block of ice and a week of fluctuating temperatures spurred then 20-year old Brendon Collins to start designing and delivering thermally effective, energy efficient homes.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Collins has nearly completed a series of 10 homes that are gaining 10 star ratings under the Victorian Government’s residential Efficiency Scorecard – and he’s believed the first builder in the state to do so.

He explains to The Fifth Estate that as a recently qualified builder at age 20, he became curious about why a block of ice in his esky did not melt for four days, despite major fluctuations in the external temperature. He also wondered if a home could be made to perform the same way, remaining comfortable all year round.

He started testing things on his own weatherboard house – and has been experimenting ever since.

His company, Lightwood Constructions, was energy efficient long before it was trendy.

Its latest development, Elmwood Living in Wodonga, on the southern side of the Victorian-New South Wales border, has homes with NatHERS ratings ranging from 7 stars to 8.5 stars, which have been the norm since 2006.

At that time, the Victorian minimum standard was 5 Stars, and this did not rise to 6 Stars until 2011.

Collins says he was an early adopter because it was “the right thing to do”.

“I want to offer something to people that’s honourable,” he says.

He’s also conscious that many of his buyers are older people on limited incomes, so ensuring they have the lowest possible power bills is important.

Ten years after starting the Elmwood builds, he says that some of the more than 100 homes in the development that have added solar PV have zero power bills. Others have power bills of about $2.50 a day, and the owners don’t see the need for solar power.

The final tranche of houses being built are achieving 10 stars, after being assessed by Green Moves Australia’s Danielle King.

Collins says because he had developed a specific building system that ensures a high-performing outcome, it did not take much adjustment to his practices to attain the high score.

“I’ve been changing my practices for a long time, so when the scorecard came along, I was already there.

“I am consistently tuning how I do things, such as the walls, the windows. I am doing my own developments, so I can steer things the way I want them to go.”

Air leakage

He says the scorecard really helped move his practice along.

The fundamental thing is to rid a building of air leakage, he says. For the past year, he has been blower door testing all the homes he has been constructing to identify any issues, and then testing them again to check any problems have been fixed.

“If you are not on top of leakage, you have no control of the building.”

Other basic practices include having all living areas oriented north for passive heating in Wodonga’s frigid winters; double-glazing; full roof, wall and slab insulation, with inspections to ensure it has been installed correctly; and constant site visits to check safety and quality are being maintained.

Collins says lightweight construction materials have been used in all his recent homes because, during the region’s sweltering summers, bricks’ thermal mass made it very difficult to cool homes at night.

Building products supplier James Hardie has supported his work by providing materials he can try out.

Top-down building

The 10 Star homes feature inclusions such as solar PV, EV charge points, heat-recovery ventilation, electric-boosted solar hot water, and a verified air exchange of 2.9 air changes per hour. Prices for the three-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-storey townhouses range from $550,000 to $850,000.

At a recent open house event on 21 November, as part of the Wodonga Sustainable Living Festival, it was about 35 degrees outside – and only about 15 degrees inside the home.

Collins uses a “top down” building method: the roof is completed first, and then all the lower parts built. This gives both a safety dividend – scaffolding is only used for about three weeks – and a speed and quality dividend.

“I can build tighter and quicker,” he says.

Last year, Brendon Collins was recognised with an Order of Australia for his contribution to the construction sector and to the community with his work at Elmwood.

The homes sell quickly and have a low turnover rate. However, Collins says agents and valuers tell him they have the highest resale values in the area.

Collins has won a number of awards for the project, including Victorian State MBA Awards in 2013 for Best Residential Builder and Best Regional Builder, and this week Champion Builder at the Energy Efficiency Scorecard Awards in Melbourne.

Last year, he was recognised with an Order of Australia for his contribution to the construction sector and to the community with his work at Elmwood.

He regularly speaks about his building system to the construction and property sectors, and other builders come to his site to learn how they can improve thermal and energy performance.

This tranche of homes is the last for Elmwood, but Collins says he does not think he is finished yet. He believes he can get a home down to under two air changes an hour, for a start.

“I think the building industry, if we just improve air tightness, we can halve energy use in Australia,” he says.

“It’s not complicated … it’s just a matter of how you educate everybody.”


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Order of Australia Recipient Continues to Innovate

Brendon Collins OAM

Brendon Collins, a builder who received an Order of Australia medal in today’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list, had a vision for a community of tomorrow that was truly sustainable and he’s continuing to innovate. He’s now aiming to offer Australia’s first 10-star energy rated homes in a medium density development in Wodonga.

Mr Collins said he felt very humbled and shocked when he was first told of the award.

“I didn’t develop Elmwood with winning awards in mind, so to win this award is incredibly humbling. Getting to this day has been a team effort. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, Karen, and with regards to Elmwood, the support of my business partner Henry Dinning and the Lightwood team,” Mr Collins said.

“People ask how and why you get involved in developing something like Elmwood but for me it was a natural thing to do. I was always interested in better ways to do things. The aim to virtually eliminate household electricity expenses all within an aesthetically pleasing environment, with a central park, was something that interested me. The benefits are for the environment, the community and big reductions in the running costs for the homeowners.”

Mr Collins said a challenging childhood growing up in Wodonga as one of eight children and having a father who was a Prisoner of War survivor of Changi and the Burma Railway, gave him empathy for others in the community who face difficulties and a strong desire for inclusivity.

One Elmwood resident, Rob McDiarmid, 83, says it’s a great community to live in because of its central location and proximity to services. Community activities include weekly lunches where people meet each other and develop friendships. There’s also a community vegetable garden and a nearby Medical Centre and café.

Mr McDiarmid said the interior comfort, design and low power consumption were some of the benefits of Elmwood homes.

“Our daily cost for gas and electricity is $2.50 a day and that’s without solar panels,” Mr McDiarmid said.

“Brendon has been great in organising events to shape this into an integrated community. In addition to the friendships, there is a culture of goodwill which encourages us to look out for each other. This was always very important to Brendon as he constructed the development.”

Mr Collins said, “I’ve found it’s important to keep on learning and discovering new processes, products and technologies in the building industry, as I think low carbon housing is the way of the future. I’ve enjoyed pursuing this sustainability aspect but equally, enjoyed helping to create a community and a neighbourhood where people feel safe and belong.”

The $40million Elmwood development features 115 homes with 7 to 8.5 star energy ratings and won two Master Builders Association awards in 2013: ‘Best Integrated Housing Development’ for Victoria and ‘Best Multi Unit Development’ for the Riverina region.

Building started on the site in 2006. The first homes were completed in 2007 and in the same year, Mr Collins built the Elmwood Medical Centre; the region’s first bulk-billed medical centre, including pathology, pharmacy and café.

There are 11 house sites still to be built on before Elmwood is finished.

Brendon and his wife, Karen, have three sons, who have all won the award Young Citizen of the Year in Wodonga: Dan 2008, Josh 2010 and Tim 2012.


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Victorian builder chasing 10-star energy rated homes to give residents greener options

Brendon Collins is hoping to develop Australia's first off-the-shelf 10-star energy efficient homes in a medium density environment.(Supplied: Fishbowl PR)

A Victorian builder has his sights set on making Australian homes greener and more energy efficient than ever before with a landmark new development project that has seen him honoured with a medal on the 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Wodonga's Brendon Collins is aiming to develop Australia's first 10-star energy rated homes in a medium density development.

So far Australia is home to just 14 accredited 10-star energy efficient homes, which are all free-standing — and none so far have been available to purchase ready-built or off the plan, as with Mr Collins' new homes.

Mr Collins is hoping the seven homes he has designed for Wodonga's Elmwood medium density development will increase the total and make up a third of Australia's top energy homes, if the design meets the criteria under the Federal Government's Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme.

The scheme looks at elements including orientation, layout, insulation and glazing, and construction materials.

Most new houses in Australia have to meet a minimum six-star rating.

Greener options for future families

The 115 homes at Mr Collins' Elmwood development currently range from seven to 8.5 star energy ratings, but he said it has taken years of planning to try and meet 10 stars.

"We haven't done it yet, but for the last five years we've working hard to achieve that," Mr Collins said.

"Trialling a lot of different building methods, it's obviously technical when you get to that level of building."

Most elements of a 10-star home have to be constructed differently from that of a lower energy rated house — from pouring slabs differently, creating special walls and roof design, to triple-glazing the windows and installing batteries and solar panels.

"The development has required close collaboration with the Wodonga council, and is being monitored by up to 60 architects, as they look at ways to achieve a greener and more sustainable future," Mr Collins said.

"We're hoping to be the first to do that in Australia, to have a 10-star off-the-shelf [home] that you can purchase."

After the years of development, Mr Collins said he is now within weeks of knowing if his plan will be signed off as 10-star.

While Mr Collins said there is not an overwhelming demand for 10-star energy rated houses, he believes they are going to be a big part of the future.

"We're just building a model for the future," he said.

"You just need population, people who will buy them — and someone as crazy as I am to push it."

The design has led to Mr Collins being awarded a medal in the 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours list.


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Solar on BeyondHousing properties helps tenants take charge with Renewable Albury-Wodonga Energy

SWITCH ON: Renewable Albury-Wodonga Energy president Bobbi McKibbin, BeyondHousing clients Katie and Jackie, and BeyondHousing's Leisa Makszin celebrated the project putting solar on social housing properties.

Beyond Housing client Katie "feels human" knowing she has control over her energy costs through a partnership between the agency and Renewable Albury-Wodonga Energy.

The Wodonga mum, who wanted to only use her first name, lives in one of 10 BeyondHousing properties in the city that now have solar systems.

"I got a phone call from a property manager asking if I'd like to be involved in the program, and I jumped for joy," she said.

"They came and did a maintenance check to see where they could put the box and panels up, and it was all installed about two months ago.

"It makes me feel human; it gives me that equal opportunity with someone else who has been working and owns their own home and can get solar panels put on."

Katie said early indications were savings of $3 a day on her bill through a 4 KW system linked to an Ubi energy-monitoring device.

"You can see how your energy is being used and when the solar kicks in," she said.

"I actually went and bought a kettle that I put on my gas stove now, as it was chewing through electricity.

"It makes you more aware of the power you're using."

Mum-of-five Jackie has spent thousands of dollars on bills in the past, having to maintain a healthy temperature for her asthmatic child.

"I have a chance to make some practical changes," she said.

BeyondHousing housing services manager Leisa Makszin said the organisation aimed to install solar wherever possible and this partnership added to that.

"A lot of this is happening in metro areas, and I'm really happy it's happening now in regional Victoria," she said.

Renewable Albury-Wodonga Energy received $54,000 from the Victorian government's renewable communities grant program for the micro-grid and work to install the systems took place from May to July.

President Bobbi McKibbin launched the program during Anti Poverty Week, which runs until Saturday.

"We know there's a 10 to 15 per cent saving rate on electricity bills through behavioural change and they'll have the added bonus where the panels will producing solar - they might be able to save 50 per cent depending on how they use it," she said.

"Cost of living is the biggest hurdle anybody has to overcome, and even more so for people at risk of becoming homeless.

"We're hoping to bring down that barrier and we'll go back again in 12 months' time to see what it's meant.

"This is one of the first projects of this kind, but we want to extend it out to other housing stock and communities that will see benefit in this as well."


This article was originally published HERE.

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Yackandandah one step closer to 100 per cent renewable with their latest milestone

Representative from public buildings, plus far right of image, Trevor Ierino, CEO Indigo Shire and immediately next to him, Cr Bernard Gaffney, Mayor of Indigo Shire (which recently declared a Climate Emergency)


The Victorian town of Yackandandah got one step closer to reaching its 100 per cent renewable energy target, with 10 public buildings flicking the switch to solar in an event held at their public hall last week.

This effort is being led by community energy group, Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY), which is committed to powering the town with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022.  Indigo Shire officially opened these new installations at the Yackandandah Public Hall on September 25, attended by surrounding community representatives, CFA, Selectronic Australia, Indigo Shire, Indigo Power and more.

Totally Renewable Yack chair Matthew Charles-Jones

The hall has installed 11 kW of solar panels, 13 kWh of battery storage and a Mondo Ubi smart energy controller. The battery allows daytime energy to be used in the evening and can support continued operation during mains power outages.


The public buildings project has added an additional 74 kW of solar to the town and is expected to generate 102 MWh annually, the equivalent volume of power needed to supply 18 homes.

TRY chairperson Matthew Charles-Jones said Yackandandah is pioneering the future of energy.

“Yackandandah is proud to be leading on what the future of energy will look like. Not only will the public benefit from cheaper energy costs for public buildings, but with smart technology all these buildings will be linked up to the Yackandandah mini-grid,” he said. 

“Community energy hubs combine local renewable energy generation, storage and energy sharing, giving our communities control over their energy future.  TRY has projects underway to add community-scale generation and storage to create a genuine, reliable, resilient and affordable local energy market.”

The Yackandandah mini-grid will be connected through local community energy company, Indigo Power and Mondo’s Ubi smart controller.


This article was originally published online HERE

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Industry and community collaborate on an award-winning mini-grid project

by Matthew Charles-Jones, Founding Member, Totally Renewable Yackandandah & Community Engagement, Mondo

The trifecta of tumbling costs, climate change and a yearning to reclaim power is drawing many people and communities globally to consider how they might embrace a true low-carbon, renewable energy future. Yackandandah, in north east Victoria, is one such place. Residents have set an ambitious and unambiguous target to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by the year 2022.

On a cooling autumnal Yackandandah Sunday in March 2014, Indigo Shire Council opened its doors for a forum to consider how locals might play a role in unlocking the diverse potential of distributed energy resources (DER).

In the two hours that followed, an enthusiastic crowd learnt how they might decarbonise, decentralise, democratise and demonstrate the transformative power of renewable energy systems.

Totally Renewable Yackandandah’s goals

Soon after, Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY) was formed. TRY immediately set to work, motivated by what other communities, businesses, entities and utilities have been doing in the face of mounting evidence on the rapidity of climate change.

In setting the goals of TRY, the committee was heavily influenced by Australia’s inaugural Community Energy Congress (CEC), held at Old Parliament House in Canberra in April 2014.

Stories of local people adopting place-based solutions to energy generation and usage were evident and a new energy narrative was emerging based on people, passion and values. TRY’s goals coalesced around a fireside sharing of soup and beer, just one week following the CEC.

TRY anticipates achieving the 100 per cent renewable energy target with a mini-grid; a series of microgrids across the town underpinned primarily by household solar generation, batteries and smart-energy orchestration. The group is also working on projects to both reduce demand and are installing community-scale generation and storage assets.

The people of Yackandandah were acknowledged for their hard work, when TRY received the 2017 Banksia Sustainability Award in the Sustainable and Resilient Community category – a fitting recognition of the courage and bravery shown by households across the creative town.

Fast forward to September 2019 and the town’s momentum is showing no sign of slowing – TRY recently celebrated a series of solar installations on ten public buildings, which are also tied to the existing mini-grid using the Ubi, a smart energy controller developed by Mondo, experts in DER projects.

These installations integrate behind-the-meter batteries to manage differences in generation and demand, and add resilience. This most recent project, partially funded by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, involved placing solar photovoltaics (PV) on public halls, the museum, the Country Fire Authority and even the local opportunity shop.

To broker trade amongst the mini-grid, TRY also initiated a community energy retailer, Indigo Power, to start trading tariffs before the year is out.

Networks and community

Yackandandah sits in the electricity distribution area owned by AusNet Services, which also own Victoria’s transmission network, along with the gas reticulation west of Melbourne.

In order to reach the 100 per cent renewable energy target, TRY recognised the network as both a key enabler and a potential inhibitor.

In its innocent beginnings, the group scheduled meetings with AusNet Services to toss up ideas around co-innovation between a electricity distribution and a local community. TRY wanted to disconnect from coal and maybe the grid. AusNet Services had assets worth billions, expertise and a significant number of Victorians that depended on the provision of safe, reliable and predictable power.

It is clear that network providers have both a challenge and an opportunity to affordably integrate renewables into a system originally based on one-way traffic and consistent demand.

TRY then approached Mondo, experts in DER, back in 2016, to answer the question – how can Yackandandah rapidly transition to clean power, strengthen the local economy, leverage existing assets and be honest about the climate threat?

Shared vision and recognition

Mondo and TRY now share a renewable energy vision – to enable people to take ownership of their energy needs. The pursuit of this vision has seen the partnership develop the necessary hardware, software and, perhaps more importantly, a replicable community framework to enact the vision.

In July 2019, Mondo received the Clean Energy Council (CEC) award in community engagement for their partnership with TRY and the delivery of the Yackandandah mini-grid. The project caught national attention when, on 8 February 2019, the Yackandandah mini-grid achieved 1GWh of locally produced renewable energy. This equates to more than $160,000 in local energy cost savings and accounts to approximately 25 per cent of energy sourced from the sun.

At the same time, AusNet Services received a CEC award for innovation with an Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funded microgrid trial alongside the University of Technology Sydney. This second Yackandandah microgrid sits on a constrained single wire earth return (SWER) line, and AusNet Services was able to use the contracted capability of Mondo’s Ubi to manage active and reactive power from inverters, and adopt orchestration of loads and some batteries.

The research delivered some compelling evidence regarding the capacity to dynamically manage voltage swings resulting from high penetrations of solar PV and spikes in demand. TRY brought to the trial ‘community and relational capital’, an asset more challenging for distribution network service providers.

With grants and donations, TRY now draws on the contract services of Mondo to undertake DER projects. With Victorian Government funding, TRY is currently building a third microgrid on another SWER line serving 33 residential properties. With the Ubi, Mondo will help deliver a project to orchestrate rooftop solar and battery systems, and efficient CO2 heat pump hot water services. This microgrid will further trial how to use smart energy control platforms to smooth out power demand and generation cycles in a way that saves locals money and averts costly asset upgrades – a win for people, asset owners and for clean energy.

Conclusion

TRY seeks to be an exemplar of effective, non-partisan cooperation between neighbours, business, government and utilities. The people of Yackandandah feel very fortunate to have made many advances toward their 100 per cent renewable energy target. However, much work awaits despite rooftop solar installation densities in Yackandandah exceeding 55 per cent and a growing list of awards and successful projects.

TRY strives to make power personal for Yackandandah people; to unpack the complexity of the system, to uncover the value of reliable clean power and to highlight the damage caused by legacy generation systems. In doing so, TRY signals a new, hopeful, courageous and mindful energy system. Will ‘Yack’ succeed? Who knows, but they do know that the best chance of success will be working beyond organisational boundaries with hope, courage and mindfulness. And a little bit of doggedness!


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Yackandandah Reaches 2mw Generation

Community Power Project Celebrates Energy Milestone

A remote Victorian town is closer than ever to its goal of running entirely on renewable energy by 2022, after hitting the major milestone of generating enough solar to power over 170 homes for a year.

Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY), the community group behind the project, announced on Friday that the Victorian Alpine region town had produced one gigawatt hour of energy – enough power to run the Melbourne Cricket Ground’s light towers for three years.

Launched at the end of 2017 in partnership with energy company, Mondo, the mini-grid is powered by 200 homes equipped with a combination of rooftop solar and battery storage, with excess energy going back into the grid to be shared with the rest of the community.

Each participating home was also given an “Ubi”, a device developed by Mondo that monitors energy use and emissions in the individual household, as well as the rest of the community.

TRY president Matt Charles-Jones told Pro Bono News while Yackandandah was still a way off reaching the 100 per cent renewable energy target, celebrating interim milestones was important.

“When we first started, the 100 per cent goal seemed so far away, so it’s really important for us to have interim milestones, because it’s something tangible we can grab hold of,” Charles-Jones said.

Rob Asselman, from Mondo, said the milestone was a testament to Yackandandah’s collaborative spirit and determination to achieve it’s renewable energy goal.

“Yackandandah have been an amazing community to work with in terms of their willingness to just roll up their sleeves and give it a go,” Asselman told Pro Bono News.

“The notion of a mini grid really takes cooperation from a community where people are going to come together and work on something that is a little bit harder, time consuming, and more expensive than just getting a standalone solar system, but they are thinking for the future which is great.”  

With 13 other community energy projects in the northern region of Victoria, Charles-Jones said he hoped this would be an example of how community power could work effectively.

“Yackandandah making this progress provides a really tangible and concrete example of what happens when a group of people put their heads together and set a target and then go around investigating how to achieve that target,” he said.

Independent federal member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, said the project was an “important proof point” on how community projects like this could work.

“This trailblazing project is an important proof point, not only for Indi but for the rest of Australia, that when community, industry and government work together we can make real strides forward on achieving a reliable, renewable, affordable energy future,” McGowan said.

As well as reaching the goal of 100 per cent renewable by 2022, Charles-Jones said the community’s next aim, once there was enough energy produced, was to work with the rest of the region to help community-owned power retailer, Indigo Power, service northern Victoria.

“Our goal is to support the uptake of renewable energy and to provide a really robust community-based platform to support that and reinvest back into local communities,” he said.


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Keeping batteries charged during the fire crisis

Mindsets literally change with the wind during a bushfire emergency – from preparation to preservation and back again – and as bushfires rage across Australia, some of our customers in bushfire-impacted areas wondered how their solar energy systems could better serve them during emergency events.

Recent bushfire movements in northeast Victoria had a number of Mondo Ubi battery customers ask if their energy systems could be programmed to:

  1. Charge their battery via solar or the grid, then;
  2. Discharge their battery only when a grid outage occurs

After a couple of different customer enquiries over the Christmas period, Mondo quickly implemented this enhanced “emergency” battery function bringing peace of mind to many customers. 

The modification meant that households could be confident of a full battery at the start of a power outage, thus providing some redundancy for emergency purposes.

In response to the function offered by Mondo, one battery customer, Mark McKenzie-McHarg, said: “You cannot imagine how important it is to now know we can charge our battery full and then hold that in readiness for a possible power outage and fire threat.”

“Our plan is to leave early, but just in case, we thoroughly ready our home to defend – having the battery which can power our fire pump/sprinkler system gives awesome extra security. You cannot conceive how much more secure a full battery makes us feel, thanks so much.”

Whilst this feature was possible through some quick manual programming by Mondo technicians, there are plans to develop an “emergency” button as a standard feature on the Mondo Portal. With the press of a button, you will be able to set your battery to charge to capacity from the grid and only discharge if an outage occurs.

Special mention to Solar Integrity, Mondo’s strategic partner in the area, who helped to facilitate the update.


This article was originally published online HERE.

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Helen Haines launches her Climate Change Policy at Solar Integrity

Indi's Orange independent candidate is calling for more investment in renewable energy and says the north east is leading the way.

Watch the video clip from PRIME7 news HERE.

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2020 Bushfire Survivor

... thanks to his planning.

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Solar Information for Emergencies

Some Australian households with solar systems are located in areas under threat from bushfires, floods and cyclones. These are usually in regional and rural areas, but can be in metro areas where isolated fires, floods and cyclones are possible.

FIRE, FLOOD AND CYCLONE EMERGENCY SITUATIONS

If you have solar panels on your roof and are faced with an emergency fire, flood or cyclone situation, there are only two things you need to remember:

If you need to evacuate, leave your house immediately

Upon returning to your house, do not attempt to turn your solar power system back on. Contact your Clean Energy Council-accredited installer to have your system recommissioned. If your installer is not available, contact a licensed electrician who can check your system to ensure it is safe.

If your solar panels have suffered fire, flood or cyclone damage, attempting to turn them back on (including operating any switches) could result in a lethal electric shock. An accredited installer needs to check that your system is safe.

Safety in flood and bushfire affected areas

If you come across a solar system that may have been damaged in a flood, storm or bushfire, an accredited installer needs to inspect the system to ensure it is not dangerous.

Do not attempt to turn on the system after a storm or flood. Take care with solar equipment or structures which may have fire damage. Stay away from the solar panels and wiring until assessed as safe to approach.

Even if the network supply is turned off, solar systems and associated wiring may still be live; systems will continue to produce voltage during the day.

Ensure that any repairs to the system are electrically safe before it is recommissioned. This check needs to be done before other clean-up work starts around the modules and associated electrical wiring.

Once the system has been checked and is safe, follow the start-up procedure.


PLANNING AHEAD FOR FIRE, FLOOD AND CYCLONE SITUATIONS

If you are planning for a possible fire, flood or cyclone, and are likely to receive a day or more warning to leave your house, there may be some extra precautionary measures you can take.


Grid-connected systems

You can follow the 'shutdown procedure' when leaving your house. This should be marked on your inverter or meter box.

A general guide to the procedure is as follows:

  • Turn off the solar supply mains switch (this is usually found in the meter box)
  • Turn off the normal supply main switch (this is usually found in the meter box)
  • Turn off the PV array isolator (this is usually found next to the inverter)


Stand-alone systems

Some stand-alone solar power systems may include battery storage that can also be disconnected.

You can take the following steps to shut down your stand-alone solar system and battery storage:

  1. Turn off the solar array
  2. Turn off the inverter
  3. Follow the battery shutdown procedures to isolate the battery bank
  4. Disable the generator from starting if it has auto start.

For further information on fire, flood and cyclone emergency management plans, contact your local emergency services.


This information was originally published online HERE.

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2018 Renewable Energy Stats

Which state was leading the way in renewable energy in 2018?
View the Facebook video HERE

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Call to ban door to door solar sales

Cold call and door-to-door sales of rooftop solar panels are being used to rip off Victorian households and should be banned, a consumer rights law group says.

Solar panel sales are booming across Australia as households struggle with rising power bills but underhanded selling tactics have led the Consumer Action Law Centre to call for a crackdown on dodgy retailers.

A report released by the law centre found some retailers were using misleading information and failing to disclose customers’ rights while making sales.

The law centre is also calling for a compensation fund to be established so that customers can be reimbursed for dodgy products or service when a business becomes insolvent.

Chief executive Gerard Brody said unsolicited and high-pressure sales were rife in the solar panel market.

He said unethical practices included cold calls followed by in-home visits to coerce customers into buying their products.

“Once you’re in someone’s home the power imbalance is quite significant and people can find it difficult to say no,” he said.

Mr Brody said the Andrews government’s commitment to deliver half-price solar panels for more than 700,000 households had encouraged “every salesperson and their dog to try and get a bit of that”.

The report cites figures showing that 1.8 million Australian households had installed rooftop solar systems by the end of 2017.

It sounds the alarm about “phoenixing” where retailers deliberately shut down to avoid their obligations to customers only to resurface later under a different name.

The law centre argues that problem could be mitigated by establishing a compensation fund, subsidised by solar retailers, allowing customers to claw back money they spent on defective panels even if the business that sold them collapsed.

The centre also flagged concerns about “unregulated finance” arrangements that retailers used to allow customers to pay off their panels over time.

Mr Brody said retailers often described these deals as interest-free loans. “But what they’re really doing is inflating the cost of the solar panels.”

Solar panel retailers must sign up to the Clean Energy Council’s code of conduct before they can participate in the Victorian government’s solar scheme. Large retailers must sign the code by July while smaller retailers have until November.

Mr Brody said these measures were welcome but consumers needed greater protection because the Clean Energy Council’s conduct code still allowed unsolicited sales.

The state government has previously said the code would make it easier for Victorians to understand their rights and help retailers do the right thing.



This article was originally published online here.

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All Energy & Clean Energy Council Awards 2018

Keep an eye out for our very own Luke Fraser and Brett Emo

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“A snapshot of my Winter bill”

It's great to hear from customers post installations to hear how they have 1 - found our services, 2 - how their experience is with the system/s and 3 - to hear how their electricity bills are travelling.  

We recently received this from a recent installation.  

This customer had their solar power installed in February.  

And their solar hot water was installed in August, this snapshot is of their winter bill.  Pretty impressive.

Hi Brett

I thought you might be interested to see this!  Happy for you to use it as testimonial!

Bill this month following solar power and hot water installation is $90. Last year it was $435. 

Cheers
Alex

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Solar Integrity presents on a national stage

Following on from Lukes award win the next day Bobbi & Luke presented at the county’s biggest solar industry show All Energy.  Here they outlined their award winning project including challenges faced.  Other speakers in the group included a floating solar farm. So there are some pretty exciting and different projects out there.   

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Luke Fraser wins national solar installation award

Our very own Luke Fraser was announced winner of the national Clean Energy Council installer awards on 3 October 2018 in Melbourne at the All Energy Conference. 

The award was for an installation conducted as part of the Yackandandah Ben Valley SWER Project.  The category was  Best Solar PV System Design & Installation Under 30kw Grid Connect PV Power System with Battery Backup.  There were some exciting entries to this years awards, including a solar powered train and solar roof tiles. 

Luke has always had a passion for renewables, a keen eye for quality and pride in workmanship.  This award is shared with the Solar Integrity team that always work with our customers’ needs at the fore.  We would also like to acknowledge and thank the University of Technology Sydney, AusNet Services, Mondo Power & Totally Renewable Yackandandah who were all stakeholders in this project, and of course our customers – thank you all for trusting us with your dreams.

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An installation with a difference

This installation forms part of one of Yackandandah’s Mini Grid.  But what makes this installation stand out among others, and one of our favourites …. The customer, and her story that’s what!

Anne has lived on this property her whole life, it was the family farm.  Although the house isn’t the original it is within metres of where the original house once stood.  She remembers as a kid her house being wired for electricity (circa 1951).  The house ran on kerosene and diesel generators, and that included their dairy.  The funny thing is though that the house was wired for electricity in 1951 but they didn’t get the power connected until 1953.  That was 2 years with power points that did nothing!

For years Anne has been looking into Solar, she went as far as getting quotes but didn’t make that last step.  And as they say everything happens for a reason.  The offer of participating in the SWER trial was too good to refuse.  Anne’s system was the first installation in the project.  What we love about Anne’s story is that she has almost come the full circle, no power, grid power, to how almost being off grid with her hybrid system. 

Anne loves her solar system and loves talking about it too. 

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New Victorian Rebates – Solar Power & Solar Hot Water

On the 19th of August the Victorian Government announced 2 new rebates, you cannot access both rebates it is one or the other:

Solar Power: Up to $2225 for solar power

The criteria is – Property value under $3m, Principal place of residence, Combined household income under $180,000, Cant already have solar – unless it was installed pre 1 November 2009. 

Solar Hot Water : $1000

The criteria is – Property value under $3m, Principal place of residence, Combined household income under $180,000

There is also talk that if they are re-elected they will introduce a battery rebate from July 1 2019.  And also possibly an interest free loan attached to the solar power rebate of another $2250.  But for these we will have to wait to get further clarification on if they are returned to government. 

For more information or to register for the new Victorian rebates please visit www.solar.vic.gov.au or contact Bobbi on 0418 293 423 or email bobbi@solarintegrityaw.com.au

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Some great news to kick start the new year…

"Welcome to the LG Energy Specialist network in 2018" 

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