Byron Shire Council is part of a unique experiment that will see power generated at its sports and cultural complex hitch a ride on the grid to be consumed at the sewerage treatment plant (STP) down the road.
The shire is just one of a handful of Australian councils to have been chosen for a pilot project in what is known as ‘virtual net metering’.
Currently the council sells most of the power it generates from the roof of the Cavanbah Sports Centre back to the grid at wholesale rates, while paying retail prices for a similar amount of energy at its STP just a couple of kilometres down the road.
Under the pilot program, the council will be able to trade off the two amounts, provided they are generated and consumed simultaneously, and pay just for the use of the grid.
It’s part of a one-year research project announced this week by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, based at UTS, which aims to ‘improve the economics of local energy generation for Australian consumers’.
Project director Jay Rutovitz said, ‘The project brings together a partnership of consumers, electricity providers and government to explore reforms that should make distributed energy projects more viable.
‘We will investigate how market changes could help consumers and network businesses benefit from local generation by providing alternatives for customers who might otherwise choose to disconnect from the grid altogether or use “behind the meter” options.’
Byron Shire Council GM Ken Gainger, said, ‘virtual net metering will enable Byron Shire Council to use electricity generated from solar PV at our sports centre and supplement power at the nearby sewage treatment plant, which is an attractive prospect for us.’
The project is being funded by a $250,000 grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to to ‘support the development of new locally based renewable energy projects through investigating more flexible tariffs and charges’.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the rules of the National Energy Market were written at a time when ‘centralised generation was the norm and local generation was the exception’.
‘Such rule changes could potentially level the playing field for renewable energy and acknowledge the contribution renewables can make to relieving local network strains,’ he added.
‘This may encourage more councils, community organisations and businesses to invest in renewable energy.
‘Integrating more renewable energy into our electricity grids is a key focus area for ARENA and we are currently seeking out new projects, like this one, which work towards achieving this goal,’ Mr Frischknecht said.
BZE forum Sunday
Meanwhile, Byron Shire Council will be holding a forum together with Beyond Zero Emissions this Sunday at the Cavanbah Centre to flesh out the council’s visionary goal to become ‘Australia’s first zero emissions community’.
The free forum runs from 9.30am to 12.30pm and is open to all interested community members who would like to have a hand in ‘co-creating a Byron Shire-specific strategy’. RSVP to [email protected]