This registered cooperative is Australia’s first community owned wind farm.
Hepburn Wind chairman, Simon Holmes a Court’s concluding statement to reporter Rebecca Nash says it all:
“There’s a real appreciation that we can get on and take constructive action right now. We don’t have to wait for government, we don’t have to wait for a CPRS. We can take action today on climate change.”
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: We’ve unlocked a whole new class of investor. The community social enterprise investor. We’ve shown that given the opportunity the community is willing to put in very patient capital into building their own renewable energy infrastructure.
The fossil fuel industry is losing its social licence. There’s not a lot of support for building more coal plants.
REBECCA NASH: Five years ago a small group of Daylesford locals resolved to build a wind farm the community could embrace.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: In the scheme of the wind industry Hepburn is a very small project. We’re building only two turbines. But what is amazing to everyone in town and what really captures our imagination is that it just takes only those two turbines to generate as much power as our town uses on an annual basis.
REBECCA NASH: A cooperative structure was chosen for the project.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: The nature of cooperatives, one member one vote not one share one vote was very important in establishing the authenticity of the project that it really was community owned and not a corporate project or a commercial project in the first instance.
Hepburn Wind is a $12.9 million project. We originally expected that we would raise about half in debt finance and then of the remainder about half through the community and half through the institutional investors.
We found very low interest from institutional investors in the project and that’s a lot due to the scale of the project, we’re very small. So we redoubled our efforts in the community and the community, we’re very proud, put together nearly $8 million for the project.
We currently have 1,200 members, the majority of whom are local and the median share holding is about two to three thousand dollars.
REBECCA NASH: Community and investor education is a constant, with tours provided to other wind farms.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: We’re still out there at least once a month just telling people about the vision for the project, dispelling any fears or myths about wind farms. A lot of people are really not sure about wind farms until they see them, until they stand underneath the turbine.
REBECCA NASH: Now the turbines are on their way, the next step is finding a buyer for their electricity.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: To the retailers we’re talking to we might represent one,two or three days of their annual demand. So we’re not so interesting from an energy sale but what we do offer is a large group of members who would be prepared to sign on as customers.
There’s obviously value to a retailer in gaining customers, but there’s also value to a lot of retailers in being associated with successful community based renewable energy project.
REBECCA NASH: Hepburn Wind has welcomed new federal legislation which separates domestic and commercial renewable energy certificates.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: Unfortunately we still have a very significant surplus of renewable energy credits that will take quite a few years to wash through the system.
There are a lot of projects that are ready to go except for financing where financing is keyed off the energy market prices so a lot of projects are waiting for a recovery in the market and won’t get up.
REBECCA NASH: Another hurdle is the differing planning laws in Australia.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: Around the country the planning frameworks are in flux and there’s quite a lot of uncertainty. A lot of the planning issues have long been solved in Europe, and Australia’s still working their way through it.
REBECCA NASH: Hepburn Wind is setting up a non-profit organisation to help other community energy projects get off the ground.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: Not a week goes by without another community calling us up and saying how do we start, how do we build our own project and communities need to know how to do it. They need large access to information resources. They also need assistance with capital raising.
REBECCA NASH: For Hepburn Wind members, the last five years have been empowering in more ways than one.
SIMON HOLMES À COURT: There’s a real appreciation that we can get on and take constructive action right now. We don’t have to wait for government, we don’t have to wait for a CPRS. We can take action today on climate change.
A great model for other collaborative community efforts in sustainable economic development