Hepburn Wind

Community-ownership could herald a gust of green power.

CONSTRUCTION is about to begin on Australia’s first community-owned wind farm. The Hepburn Community Wind Park Co-operative held its official groundbreaking ceremony last week at Leonards Hill, 10 kilometres south of Daylesford.

Vicki Horrigan, a director of Hepburn Wind, says the turbines should be ready and rotating by mid-2011. “It’s over five years since the local community here had the idea. And now we’re building a project worth just under $13 million.”

The wind farm comprises two turbines with a combined capacity of 4.1 megawatts. They’ll be built by German company REpower Systems AG and connected to the grid.

“The turbines are estimated to produce about 12,200 megawatt hours each year,” Ms Horrigan says. “That’s enough to power 2300 homes, which is more than the number of households here in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs.”

Hepburn Wind was set up as a co-operative. Membership is open to all Victorians, but there’s a lower minimum investment threshold for locals. All members get one vote, regardless of the size of their shareholding. Once they’re whirling, the turbines will generate a return for members and contribute funding for local projects.

“The structure has been a real bonus for engaging the local community, because they can see the idea came from here and they can participate in it easily,” Ms Horrigan says. “It’s a good financial model, but it’s also a good philosophical model – it’s socially responsible investment.

“People often feel powerless about climate change on a global scale. This project shows that local communities can set up systems that really go towards making ourselves sustainable.”

Precinct-scale power generation can also be much more efficient than a house-by-house approach. The Hepburn Wind turbines will cost far less per household in the area than a comparable roll out of rooftop solar photovoltaic panels.

The group’s success has turned heads. “We get a couple of requests every week from other communities wanting to find out about what we’re doing and how they could start something similar,” Ms Horrigan says.

There’s a lot of advice to pass on – among the thorniest impediments have been raising the capital, estimating costs and gaining planning approval.

For this reason, a spin-off organisation, called Embark, has been founded to support other communities through the process.

Embark’s executive director Mary Dougherty says the organisation is already in contact with about ten groups, including some working on proposals for mini-hydro and solar schemes, as well as wind turbines.

“We’re trying to break down the steps involved and provide practical advice and templates, like business plans, financial models and landholder lease agreements. It’s much easier than starting with a blank slate.”

There are scores of articles on Embark website, covering everything from the ins-and-outs of the energy market, to how to run effective public meetings, together with case studies from both here and abroad.

In Denmark, co-operatives own over a quarter of the country’s wind farms. “In the European countries where these community projects started out, they have a far greater uptake of renewable energy overall. These small projects lead to large ones,” Ms Dougherty says.

“In ten years, we’d love to have started 100 projects. Through all the investors, that translates to about a million people who are exposed to the benefits of renewable energy first hand. That’s really powerful.”

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