An organisation which helps set up communal solar panels across Australia and New Zealand has chosen Horsham as its first Victorian location.
Energy Democracy managing director Alan Major said it was preparing a development application for six hectares of land on Rasmussen Road, on which it hoped to build enough solar panels to produce three megawatts of power, plus a six-megawatt-hour battery storage.
Mr Major said the energy co-operative would work by members purchasing shares equivalent to a parcel of solar panels and battery storage to meet their energy needs.
He said Energy Democracy wanted to avoid renters and other Horsham residents being left behind as the energy market transitioned to self-generation.
"The electricity generated goes into the grid as normal, but it is then assigned to each member of the co-operative based on how much they've paid for, as if they have generated it themselves," he said.
"If you own your own house, put solar on a roof and a battery in your garage, suddenly your interaction with the grid is completely different. We're trying to make sure households that can't participate can still benefit from the energy transition."
Not-for-profit the Climate Council estimates one megawatt of electricity is enough to power 300 homes.
Mr Major said Horsham was chosen because it had 5G broadband on the way and a low uptake of solar in the city. He said only 16 per cent of households in postcode 3400 had solar installations
"If you're out towards Natimuk the Australian Photovoltaic Institute says 34 per cent have installed solar systems, and across postcode 3401 (Kalkee, Longerenong and Wartook) its 28 per cent," he said.
"The reality is in most built-up areas around 50 per cent of households are not going to be suitable for rooftop solar."
Data from the Clean Energy Regulator shows there were 1628 small-scale installations across Horsham Rural City in 2018. Mr Major said members would pay distribution network and market fees, but still stood to save around 50 per cent on their energy bills.
"Co-ops have an active participation rule, so you have to source your energy through your parcel of shares, and any surplus generated will be sold on your behalf and the profits passed back to members by way of cheaper electricity," he said.
"The co-op can also choose to assign some of its surplus to community projects and grants. We are hoping to get around 500 to 1000 households in the Wimmera region on board - because the electricity network across Western Victoria is owned by Powercor anyone in the region can take part."
Mr Major said the company had already received numerous expressions of interest from households across Victoria, and wanted to discuss Horsham Rural City Council, the Intermodal Freight Terminal at Dooen and the Grains Innovation Park purchasing energy from the park eventually.
He said it planned to submit a development application to the council later this month.
A council spokesman confirmed the organisation had met with Energy Democracy to discuss its plans.
"Nothing has been negotiated yet but we are open to talking further and we'd support a proposal that benefited the Wimmera and provided cost-effectiveness for the council when it comes to energy," he said.
Energy Democracy will hold a meeting at Horsham's White Hart Hotel from 5.30pm on Friday July 19 for residents.
Renewable options for tenants, landlords increasing
Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive Gil King said Energy Democracy's plans came in the wake of other options for renters who wanted to install solar systems.
As of July 1, landlords and tenants who enter into agreements to install solar panels on their properties are eligible for a $2,225 state government rebate.
"This makes it a much more attractive proposition for landlords to do that," Mr King said.
"Over 70 per cent of residential landlords are mum and dad investors, so they have to weigh up carefully what improvements they make to the property and whether they can afford them. If there is another way of getting power to the property that is legal, that's fine."
Mr King said despite the cost, there were long-term benefits for Wimmera landlords installing solar systems on their properties.
"It boosts the value of the property, and it makes it easier to lease into the future given the average life of a tenant is anywhere from one to three years," he said. "It could also attract a higher standard of tenant, or someone who is focused on those renewable initiatives."
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