As tempers flare during another hot Australian summer — and stakeholders bicker over whether renewables or the country’s energy administrator are to blame for rolling blackouts in South Australia — one electricity retailer has given customers the opportunity to pay slightly higher rates in order to fund community solar projects.
Powershop was founded in New Zealand a decade ago and in recent years set up shop in Australia and the United Kingdom. The company allows customers to select various electricity providers on its website and choose whether they want lower prices, environmental benefits or to sponsor a cause.
Last year the company launched the Your Community Energy (YCE) initiative, which gives customers the option to pay a slightly higher rate in order to fund micro-hydro, small-scale solar or small-scale wind power projects.
As reported in the Guardian, Powershop aimed to raise AUD $20,000 (US$15,200) by the end of last year. But as of press time the company, has raised over $88,00. The result is “a chance to pay it forward” if consumers wish to fund renewables projects, reports the Guardian’s Michael Slezak.
Powershop is now funding seven projects across the states of Victoria (where the largest city is Melbourne) and New South Wales (which surrounds the country’s capital, Canberra, and is anchored by its largest city, Sydney).
One beneficiary of this Powershop program is the Ceres sustainability center in East Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne. Spread across 11 acres, the 35-year-old social enterprise runs environmental education programs, a green technology incubator and hosts urban agriculture projects. The organization is now closer to its goal of being a zero-emissions operation. Revenues dispersed from Powershop are funding the installation of solar panels on Ceres’ roof, which will help the organization procure 40 percent of its power from renewables by 2020.
Other YCE projects include community centers, a social enterprise that employs citizens with disabilities, and a retirement community. Most of the projects generate anywhere from 8 to 12 kilowatts of power — allowing those organizations to save money on energy costs, funds that in turn can instead be used for various social programs.
This bottom-up approach to funding community energy projects comes at a time when the national debate over energy in Australia is becoming more toxic. While more countries are turning away from coal in favor of cleaner-burning sources of fuel, coal consumption is holding steady in Australia. The country of 23 million people is one of the few nations where the International Energy Agency expects coal consumption to grow, if even slowly, for the next 20 years.
The droughts and extreme weather that have ravaged Australia for several years prompted more interest and growth in renewables. But while some states backed by the country’s more liberal Labor Party support aggressive clean energy goals, the federal government, run by the center-right Liberals, have attacked those policies as causing widespread blackouts. Critics, however, respond that the blame lies with storms and other extreme weather rather than increasing reliance on technologies like solar.
Image credit: Powershop/Facebook