Community Owned Solar
An Investment We Can All Make In A Low Carbon Future
by Steve O’Connor, Climate Reality Leader
Last September whilst walking around my suburb, I had a bit of an epiphony: I remember squinting at reflections from the local primary school roof and imagined all that wasted space covered with solar panels, quietly transforming the sun’s free energy into clean electricity that could be fed back into the grid. If the local community shared the upfront costs, I reasoned, they could make their money back through electricity sales whilst also giving the schoolkids an excellent opportunity to learn about generating clean energy. Surely no-one could argue against that?
There are now over a million households around Australia that have solar panels on their roofs. An amazing achievement to be sure, but many people can’t participate for a variety of reasons. Community-owned solar power is a concept that can help expand ownership to those people who may have missed out, such as renters, people on lower incomes or those that just don’t have a suitable roof.
After mentioning my mini-epiphony to a friend, she put me in touch with Lawrence McIntosh, the creative force behind SolarShare, a volunteer-based organisation that’s committed to making these kinds of investment a reality in Canberra. I’m now part of the crew, and we’ve started looking around Canberra for potential investors to register their interest with us.
The way it works is simple in essence: SolarShare lets you have co-ownership in a community solar farm near you. We look for suitable solar projects in Canberra, and negotiate an agreement with the developer to make a portion of it (up to 100%) allocated for community investment. Terms are agreed upon and then the investment is made available to those members of the community or local companies who have registered their interest on a first-come, first-served basis.
We’re currently in high-level negotiations for our first community solar farm project. Investments are sustainable, low-risk, long-term and yield a modest return (roughly equivalent to a high-interest savings account) with an entry level as small as a few hundred dollars. The solar developer also benefits by engaging the local community in its activities and having a known source of funding. In return they provide us with the service of lowering the project’s cost and risk profile.
As we create this initial solar farm we are also keen to use it as a template, paving the way for similar projects in the future, whilst working with the Government to make these kinds of investment more attractive and inclusive so that no-one in the community feels left out.
Climate change can be such a divisive topic, and tackling it in any meaningful way can seem like an impossible task. My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, people will become connected with local clean energy projects in ways they haven’t been able to imagine, contributing to a low-carbon future that we can all share.