Wind power in Tasmania: Citizen-owned wind energy is way of the future

The cost of electricity is set to rise from July 1, with a national renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020.

Large-scale wind turbines plants are increasing, solar energy is booming and hydro schemes are being adopted across the country.

But the real future of energy generation is in community- owned renewable energy projects, according to one of the men involved in setting up Australia’s first citizen-owned wind farm.

Now he has his sights set on Tasmania.

Victoria’s Jack Gilding was in the state last week to talk to locals about the viability of renewable energy projects in communities and their financial benefits.

The Hepburn Community Wind Farm consists of two turbines built by the community, after locals decided nearly seven years ago to take responsibility for their own energy needs.

“We get million or so income per year and $30,000 of that goes into community projects," Mr Gilding said.

“And that will go up. The project has created local jobs and raised the skill level of locals.

“It created more local employment and more money stays in the community through smaller projects like this, as opposed to big scale wind farms."

A group of about 1900 people raised $9.7 million for the Hepburn project and entered into wholesale and retail arrangements with electricity company Red Energy.

“Most community energy projects commit a specific proportion of profits to the community as financial support," community energy lobby group Embark Australia said.

The Hepburn Community Wind Farm was officially opened in November last year.

“This is how so much of our energy is going to be generated in the future _ not in far off power stations but in local communities, capturing the power nature gives us through the wind and the sun," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the time.

Mr Gilding believes Tasmania is a perfect place to begin investing in community- owned turbines.

“Tasmania’s competitive advantages for renewable energy include the physical _ wind, hydro, solar, biomass, wave, tidal," he said.

“You have state-owned enterprises _ Hydro, Entura, Aurora, and small and medium scale businesses and consultancies, existing projects _ King and Flinders islands, Platypus hydro and Glenorchy landfill gas."

Sassafras chicken farmer Rob Nichols agrees with him.

He installed mainland Tasmania’s first privately owned turbine at his farm four years ago. It produces 50 per cent of his electricity.

Mr Nichols believes community ownership could provide enormous social, environmental and economic benefits to regional areas.

“Two-and-a-half jobs are created per community-owned turbine compared to one-quarter of a job per turbine in a large wind farm operation," he said.

“The way our setup works is, the electricity from here runs into our processing plant if we’re using it at that point, then we would use that power and if we’re producing more than what we need, it would be generating enough electricity for the processing plant and surface electricity would be going back into the grid."

Last year, Mr Nichols won a Nuffield Scholarship to travel to Denmark, where 20 per cent of the country’s electricity is generated from renewable resources, and community ownership of wind turbines is becoming more common.

However, in Tasmania, Mr Nichols said there was red tape slowing down the potential.

“It’s doable but it is off- putting to anybody who hasn’t tacked that level of bureaucracy before," he said.

“The connection agreements, the power purchase agreements, and all of those hurdles that you have to negotiate your way through can be quite daunting and I think there’s room for some improvements.

“Other states have introduced feed-in tariffs, which stimulate and encourage clean energy.

“They work by paying you to generate the electricity, whether you use it or not, and then you go away and you market that electricity and you get to sell it again."

Mr Nichols believes there is room for farmers to diversify into clean energy industries including wind power, as they are doing in many countries across Europe. “It’s given us the opportunity to get involved in a new and promising dynamic business, which is renewable energy."