Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee: community energy projects (2)

CRISP (Mildura) — I rise to speak on the inquiry into community energy projects by the Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee. Firstly, as part of preparing this report the committee attended the All-Energy conference last year, and I attended it again last week. In listening to some of the presentations at that conference, most of the activity in renewable energy, in particular solar energy, is still behind the meter, and it is behind the meter in both homes and businesses. In my statement I am going to talk about the opportunities for homes.

Firstly, it is obvious to all of us that many of our households are in bill shock over their electricity bills, and everybody is focusing on how to reduce their bills. We hear disturbing stories about 'heat or eat'. However, in section 3.4 on page 50 of the report there is good work that has been done. The case study is the Darebin Solar Saver project. The report reads:

Darebin Solar Saver is a program run by Darebin City Council that helps low‑income households in the City of Darebin install solar panels on their roof at no up-front cost. Eligibility is restricted to pensioners who own their own home and are eligible for existing rates discounts.

This helps those who need help the most:

Households pay off the panels over 10 years through a special charge on their rates. The size of the … PV systems is individually scaled to ensure that households save on their electricity bills and repayments are structured to be less than the amount saved each year.

I congratulate Darebin on pioneering this. Darebin finances these projects at 0 per cent interest due to the program's climate change and social justice objectives. The program installed panels on 292 houses in 2014 and another 200 in 2015. That included 20 social housing properties.

Other councils are planning to join this program, and I urge as many councils as possible across Victoria to look at this because this is something that can be practically done now to assist those who most need help. The director of the Melbourne Energy Institute also told the inquiry that there are considerable benefits from the program, particularly removing a financial barrier for households who cannot afford to pay for a system up-front and allowing them greater purchasing power.

It was also pointed out that these projects involved local government bulk-buying and installing in the process, and that gives a lot of people confidence about this. Solar energy on the roof is something that a lot of people want, and they understand the benefits but do not understand the complexities of going about it. Householders will feel more comfortable about installing renewable energy if a council is overseeing the process and providing them with advice.

These are projects that do make a difference — and make a difference to our community — so I encourage councils right across Victoria to look at what they can do in their communities based on the Darebin model to help us with energy shock. We do not want to hear any more stories about people having to make the choice between heating or eating, or cooling or eating, or having to spend a great deal of time elsewhere during summer. These are projects that are worth considering, and again I encourage all councils to consider this initiative.

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