Euroa’s grassroots solar microgrid plan to avoid summer blackouts
A small town in north-east Victoria is driving a renewable energy strategy that will generate power off the grid, give the town greater reliability in its power supply, and reduce local demand for electricity in times of flux.
The Euroa Environment Group is behind the $6 million grassroots project to install 589 kilowatts of new solar photovolatic (PV) panels, and up to 400 kilowatts of new batteries.
It will work with Mondo Power and Globird Energy as well as 14 businesses within Euroa which will install the technology.
The project may eventually extend to the residential community of Euroa and to other towns as it will demonstrate how a microgrid can operate.
The town has endured countless blackouts and it is hoped the microgrid will address the issue in the lead-up to summer.
The closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station in Victoria last year drove up energy power prices in southern states and put pressure on the market operator to deliver enough power to meet demand on summer’s hottest days.
Shirley Saywell, who is a business owner in Euroa and president of the group, said power options had been limited.
“We are on the end of the line and in times of peak demand, our power is really under stress,” Ms Saywell said.
“This microgrid within another microgrid will give us the opportunity to generate power locally, store power locally and share power locally. It’s the town making itself more resilient in these times of uncertainty.
“There’s been stories about how complicated renewables are, and I see my role as showing people that it shouldn’t be as complicated as it’s made out to be.”
The intention of the project is to give the town greater reliability in its power supply as well as decrease the price of energy.
Energy strategy one of many
The initiative is one of many grassroots projects popping up around the state to deal with an issue that some activists call neglect on the Government’s behalf.
Ms Saywell said there were many communities who had pooled their own resources to pursue sustainability options.
Already, the community of Yackandandah has made the move to becoming 100 per cent renewable, Warburton is exploring opportunities through water, Port Fairy is starting to work toward becoming south-west Victoria’s first smart energy precinct, and Newstead is wanting to become the first energy self-sufficient town in Victoria.
Those projects are only a small sample among other wind and solar projects being proposed across the state.
Ms Saywell said she believed there was a lot of myths surrounding energy and that there had been a lack of leadership around renewables.
“We believe that unfortunately we’re not getting good leadership from our Federal politicians, and I believe it’s up to grassroots organisations to drive the renewables charge,” she said.
“There’s no one simple answer to coal, and I think that’s not well understood.”
“Leadership is coming from groups like ours because we understand there is a range of solutions, and there’s not one simple solution. It’s about being clever about what’s available to us.”
The Andrews Labor Government has thrown $600,000 towards the project — a small contribution towards increasing renewables within the state.
A Microgrid Demonstration Initiative was announced in 2017 as part of its Renewable Energy Action Plan to reach its goal of making the state 25 per cent renewable by 2020, and 40 per cent by 2025.
The Government announced on Wednesday it would provide $4.5 million to Origin Energy to develop a cloud-based project that will distribute power from up to 650 customers with solar PV and batteries during peak periods.
Member for Northern Victoria, Jaclyn Symes, said the projects would encourage less of a reliance on traditional forms of power.
“Everyone is becoming more educated around the opportunities and the options for reducing reliance on coal,” Ms Symes said.
“I expect that lots of people will be watching with interest about how this works and what savings people will see, and what types of reliability of power improvements can be generated as well.”
Still a concern around energy plan
Despite the positive move, there remains concern around a short-term plan to address the possibility of blackouts, in what is forecast to be one of Victoria’s hottest summers.
According to its latest report, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is predicting a one-in-three chance of power failure.
But a spokesperson from the body said the risk could be reduced with collaboration between the wider energy industry and governments.
“AEMO has already commenced engagement with industry stakeholders such as generators, transmission and distribution network service providers,” the spokesperson said.
“We intend to meet with key senior industry CEOs in September to outline the progress of our summer readiness plans and to seek their views and address any issues they might have.”
But Victorian Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources David Southwick said the report was “alarming”.
Mr Southwick said he believed there was no real plan leading into summer in terms of assuring reliability and affordability of power.
“It just shows that Government has not properly planned to ensure that Victorians have the reliable power they need, and the affordable power that everyone is crying out for,” he said.
“What we have seen is an absolute ideological focus towards one type of energy.
“We don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have proper planning, and we’ve taken one of our major sources of power out of the market within five months, and that’s resulted in the pressures we currently face.”
Mr Southwick said energy reports from Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) highlighted a need to make a smooth transition.
“We need a short-term plan on getting more energy into the market. We said we’d lift a moratorium on on-shore conventional gas and maintain a ban on fracking, and that’ll bring more of a supply of gas into the market,” he said.
But Ms Saywell said many were making the move to renewables harder than necessary.
“The Federal Government is in the clutches of the coal industry, and there’s lots of myths and spin associated with the implications of switching,” she said.
“The reality is people have done it. Communities are already making in-roads into changing to clean power.
“Other countries that have less sun and less opportunities to do it yet have done it — why is it so hard for us?”
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