The little town of Daylesford in Victoria built Australia’s first community-owned wind farm.
The people of Daylesford in Victoria’s Hepburn Shire can make a rare boast. Their town’s power generation is now carbon neutral after they built Australia’s first community-owned wind farm.
It all started when a Danish immigrant plonked a card table in the main street. Hepburn Wind’s Community Officer Taryn Lane explains.
About eight years ago in a nearby community a developer wanted to build a large-scale wind farm. It was the first time our local area had heard about renewable energy development within the shire. About 300 people turned up at a meeting and there was a lot of opposition.
A couple of people from our local town of Daylesford who attended that meeting were disappointed in the community’s first response to renewable energy development. One of those people was our founder Per Bernard who was an immigrant from Denmark. He knew that over in Denmark the most common form of wind energy was community-owned. In fact in Denmark there’s about 2,100 community-owned wind farms and about 200,000 investors who own the wind turbines around their local villages.
So he came back from that meeting determined to talk about renewable energy and tell people it didn’t have to be a developer stepping in, it could be a community-owned project. And so he just started sitting around on a card table in the main street and talking to people. Three supporters turned into 30 and they decided to incorporate and pretty soon it was 300 – fast track a number of years and we’ve raised $9.8 million from the community and we’ve got 2,000 community investors. They’re very committed and vocal and passionate. We had a turbine-raising picnic and 350 of our members came to watch the turbines being raised and then we had a launch festival and 850 members turned up.
The first sod was turned on October 8, 2010 and then construction happened really rapidly after that so by March, 2011 our actual turbines were being erected. Then by June we were handed over the keys to the wind farm from our developer REpower. We’ve got two turbines with four megawatts of combined total capacity and that generates enough electricity to offset around 2,000 to 2,200 homes. That’s more than the houses in our local town of Daylesford and surrounding areas.
So we produce enough renewable energy to meet our energy needs making us carbon neutral for power generation. There are not too many communities who can say that. Our members absolutely believe in climate change and are proud that we prevent about 12,200 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere every year.
On top of that our 2,000 members – the majority of whom are locals – receive a financial return on the shares they’ve purchased. We also have a local neighbourhood benefit program where we make electricity more affordable for local residents and we give them a gift of shares so they have a voice in the project. Then there is our community fund – as soon as we started generating electricity it was part of our original promise to spread the benefits widely. We contribute $15,000 per annum per turbine into the community fund so that’s $30,000 each year. Compare that to the average spend for a corporate wind farm developer around Australia which is about $750 per turbine. So our approach is to make sure the community benefits. Red Energy, which purchases our electricity, has developed a co-branded product called the community saver product. For every household that buys electricity through that product, Red Energy contributes an additional $50 per annum to our community fund. Through that fund we’ve contributed towards educational projects at the local school, arts and cultural projects, the local wildlife shelter, and energy projects including bioenergy and community solar.
We are the first community-owned wind farm in Australia. Denmark in Western Australia is the second and they just started generating in January this year. In 2010 we launched Embark which is a not-for-profit organisation that emerged out of Hepburn Wind because basically we saw a need for communities to be supported to build their own projects. Embark’s role is to really support the industry as it grows and to help communities on that journey. We want to see the model spread and there are a number of other communities that have started the journey of building their own community-owned wind farms like Castlemaine and New England Wind.
Hepburn Wind hopes to be involved in future energy projects within our shire. There’s a growing desire for bioenergy and for solar as well so depending on what the community wants we’re very excited to think about the future and what’s appropriate and desirable in our community.
Show your support for renewable energy by signing our Seize Your Power pledge now and if you’re in Australia, make sure you connect to the 2 Degrees Project to see how close you are to climate change.