Northern Rivers Energy (NRE), Australia’s first community-based renewable energy retailer in the northern rivers, plans for the region to become fossil free within years.
Mark Byrne of the Total Environment Centre, which teamed with the Office of Environment and Heritage to provide the grant, told The Echo, ‘We had several excellent tenders, but the NRE tender won because they had the most sophisticated and thorough understanding of the ways that the northern rivers community could be involved in the company.’
As reported in Echonetdaily last week, this is the first Australian attempt to adopt the community energy company model that has had dramatic effects in Hamburg (Germany) and Colorado (USA).
NRE company will focus on encouraging the wider take-up of solar energy, selling power at lower tarrifs and paying customers a fair price for their rooftop-generated electricity.
‘The potential is enormous,’ says NRE spokesperson Alison Crook. ‘The northern rivers already has a high level of take-up of solar PV.
‘We have a community that really understands what it means to support each other.
‘We are aware of the reality of climate change and want to do something constructive about it.
‘We can work with existing generators and there is plenty of scope for new projects.
Model for Australia
‘Our aim is to generate sufficient renewable energy to cover our use within the region – a long-term goal and a moving target, but a model for Australia.’
The $54,000 grant will assist NRE to develop its business plan, which is expected to focus on providing renewable energy at competitive rates while purchasing solar and other renewable energy at a fair price from existing residential, commercial and government system owners.
This will become critical for locals when feed-in tariff agreements expire in 2016.
Solar expert and NRE team member Patrick Halliday said, ‘We would like to value renewable energy created by system owners in a more realistic manner than the six to eight cents per kilowatt hour currently on offer.
Feed-in tariff expires 2016
‘As a region at the end of a grid and without reticulated gas, we feel much more can be done to create home-grown energy.’
NRE plans to facilitate community investment in medium-scale renewable energy projects initiated from anywhere in the community, and develop financing models to allow individuals to go solar. Of the 30+ cents we currently pay per kWh of electricity, only 3–5c represents the cost of generation. Transmission and distribution costs make up over 60 per cent of our power bill.
‘When we bring energy from afar, electricity is lost in the lines. It’s incredibly wasteful,’ says Ms Crook.
‘With the use of accurate measurement and monitoring, energy-efficient appliances and the increase of locally produced power, we can transition to a low-carbon environment that is ethical, efficient, locally owned and self-sustaining.’
NRE also plans to operate a not-for-profit arm focusing on Energy Literacy (education, efficiency and demand management).
Energy analyst and team member Debbie Davie believes that community involvement and customer loyalty will be central to NRE’s success.
‘This makes business sense too. Peaks in demand create price spikes, and a retailer in co-operation with informed customers can use technology to manage demand.’
Full-scale community consultation will be carried out after the NRE completes its feasibility study and can produce detailed financial modelling.
‘We want to give the people throughout the northern rivers the opportunity, even at this early stage, to signal their interest in participating in early rounds of discussions,’ said Ms Crook. ‘We have all the ingredients necessary to demonstrate that communities can meet their energy needs without relying on fossil fuels. Now we need to put it together.’
For more visit www.nre.org.au and register for more information or to participate in the project.