Yackandandah giving solar dreams 100%

ENERGY LEADER: Rooftop solar panels are some of the energy-saving ways of the future for Yackandandah Health chief executive Annette Nuck and the town. Picture: MARK JESSER
ENERGY LEADER: Rooftop solar panels are some of the energy-saving ways of the future for Yackandandah Health chief executive Annette Nuck and the town. Picture: MARK JESSER

The challenge of being a little town with a big vision is not something that worries the team at Totally Renewable Yackandandah.

The environment advocates have committed to lead Yackandandah to 100 per cent renewable energy by the year 2022.

Their dream started two years ago, when about 50 people came together for a community meeting to discuss what could be done to counter climate change.

Indigo Shire residents had just installed 135 rooftop solar systems during 2011 and 2012 - the most of seven council areas involved in a Solar North East project funded by the Victorian government.

It was only the start.

Since then, both Yackandandah Health Services and the community centre have jumped on board by installing solar panels to power their buildings.

About 200 people attended a fundraiser last week to hear former Liberal leader John Hewson speak about his advocacy for renewable energy.

The momentum is growing.

WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE: Former Liberal leader John Hewson was treated like a rock star at the Totally Renewable Yackandandah fundraiser.

WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE: Former Liberal leader John Hewson was treated like a rock star at the Totally Renewable Yackandandah fundraiser.

TRY chair Matt Grogan said transforming the entire town to become reliant on renewable energy, and without electricity bills, would eventually make money.

“We do think it’s achievable, but it will take a lot of work,” he said.

“One of the exciting things is we don’t yet know what it looks like.”

Yackandandah will not be taken completely off the energy grid, but would not rely on it either.

Mr Grogan said the centralised model of electricity needed 50 years ago was not necessarily the best model now for all communities.

But you will not hear TRY members get into an argument about the reality of climate change – they see it as a fact which needs a solution, not a debate.

“We need to be mindful of the damage it’s causing,” Mr Grogan said.

“Our aim is to be a leader for other towns.”

To make it happen, TRY will take inspiration from locations such as Newstead, which the Victorian government has declared will be the state’s first 100 per cent renewable town, and Canberra, which has a goal of 90 per cent renewable energy by 2020.

Some will use wind energy, while Yackandandah will focus on solar.

TRY member Denis Ginnivan said the project meant Yackandandah could take control of its own future, but the group soon realised their innovation had also given others hope from afar.

“That’s a spin off we really hadn’t planned for,” he said.

“It’s a bit easier to innovate in small towns because you don’t have any push back.”

Even electricity distributors were aware of the town’s renewable goal were keen to work with the community on new technologies.

Saturday’s event with Mr Hewson raised a massive $4000 to go towards the “perpetual energy fund”.

It will be used for no-interest loans to fund renewable energy projects in the former gold mining town.

The loans can be paid back with money previously used on electricity bills until the fund is replenished,and groups start to save themselves money.

TRY’s goal was to reach about $20,000 and fund multiple protects to run at the same time.

Yackandandah’s hospital was one of the first to take up the loans and the footy club is among the next on the list.

SMART AT HOME: Chris McGorlick is happy with the solar panels on the roof of his Yackandandah home.

SMART AT HOME: Chris McGorlick is happy with the solar panels on the roof of his Yackandandah home.

The goal was for Yackandandah to eventually not need the TRY committee and own the renewable town identity on its own.

Mr Ginnivan said there were doubters, but it did not worry them.

“Yackandandah’s got a really good spirit of having a go,” he said.

Residents had their own ideas and drive to meet the 2020 target.

Chris McGorlick and Lauren Salathiel installed six solar panels to the roof of their Yackandandah home a couple of years ago to make the switch to renewable energy.

“It makes us be aware of how we use our electricity as well,” Mr McGorlick said.

He said it was not just about saving money, but changing their overall behaviour, such as doing washing and ironing during the day to be the most energy efficient.

The cafe owner said he regularly had conversations with other residents about their plans for renewable energy because of such awareness of the issue within the town.

PROUD TOWN: Ben McGowan and Denis Ginnivan are two TRY committee members working to make a difference for the town's renewable energy.

PROUD TOWN: Ben McGowan and Denis Ginnivan are two TRY committee members working to make a difference for the town's renewable energy.

Mr Hewson told last week’s fundraiser Yackandandah had a great opportunity to embrace renewable energy if the town took advantage of the “technological revolution”.

He was speaking four days before the Labor party announced its policy of creating an Emissions Trading Scheme, but had already predicted climate would emerge as a significant issue under the leadership of Bill Shorten.

The Liberal man was not afraid to critisise Environment Minister Greg Hunt, saying he had been hypocritical on the topic of renewable energy.

“He spent the bulk of his time as environment minister trying to destroy the renewable energy industry under the activities of the Abbott government,” Mr Hewson said.

“We have no policies. 

“It’s not going to happen with direct action - they don’t have the billions of dollars in their coffers to pay big polluters to reduce their pollution.”

He wanted to see a nationwide commitment to reach 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

In that scenario, Yackandandah would be well ahead.

“With the standing of the two major parties at the moment, I’ve never seen a better opportunity for a new political force in this country, but I don’t see anyone with the capacity to deliver that,” Mr Hewson said.

But even if political parties were not at the level renewable advocates wanted, communities were picking up the slack.

Mr Hewson had examples he had seen from all over the country, such as Queensland using residue left after extracting sugar from sugar canes as a biofuel to create electricity.

He was adamant coal was “very dirty word”, but – more importantly – businesses could grow the economy with new jobs in the field of renewable energy.

“I have spent a large part of my last 20 years trying to prove that point,” Mr Hewson said.

“It’s about thinking ‘why do we keep doing the things we’re doing?’.”

IN THE BEGINNING: TRY's Matthew Charles-Jones was one of the early adopters to install solar panels on his roof.

IN THE BEGINNING: TRY's Matthew Charles-Jones was one of the early adopters to install solar panels on his roof.

Mr Ginnivan’s daughter Leah was part of conducting a Charles Sturt University study in 2015 into community attitudes towards TRY’s 100 per cent renewable energy target.

It found “overwhelming” support for the project.

“Almost everyone we spoke to mentioned that Yackandandah is the kind of town that takes on projects like this - shared initiatives that build community while solving social and environmental problems,” the report stated.

“The idea of taking back the power from energy companies and politicians and vesting it in the local community appealed to them.”

The negative was people did not understand how the town could reach the goal and what they, as residents, would be expected to do at home.

So, the next step for TRY will be using a Victorian government grant to create a full blueprint for leading the town into renewable energy, including exactly what was needed.

It will involve a collaboration with a consultant with expertise in energy projects.

Indigo Council had been supportive of TRY, but would be one of the organisations called on to play a bigger role if the 100 per cent renewable goal was to be achieved.

“It’s a great opportunity for the shire to set themselves apart,” Mr Grogan said.

“If we’re going to put energy into this, we’re not going to do it half-heartedly.