Thermeco Loves Aussie Country Town Yackandandah - Solar Energy Grid
17th July 2020
The Victorian country town that set up its own solar energy grid.
Cam Klose and Ben McGowan are both in their early thirties, and grew up in the small community of Yackandandah, or “Yack”, in Victoria’s north-east. Ben had moved away from Yack after his schooling, and came back as he was approaching thirty and looking to start a family life. In Cam’s case, he’d moved overseas, but returned with his partner to be involved in renewables and community projects.
Yackandandah in Victoria's north-east. Photo: Bec Bower.
Yack’s historically been a dairy and general agriculture hub, but nowadays you’d describe it as a tree-change and tourist economy. It’s a community on the move: 1800 people, across about 800 dwellings, possessed of a fierce community pride and a willingness to innovate. “There are lots of different projects underway here,” Cam says. “People move to the town because it’s a very active community. There are clubs, Plastic-Wise Yackandandah, a community-owned hospital…the townspeople even bought out the petrol station when they were looking at closing it: it distributes half its profits back into the community.”
Community collaboration has the town on track to be running off 100% renewable energy. Photo: courtesy of Totally Renewable Yackandandah.
What drew both Ben and Cam in was a remarkable new community collaboration known as TRY – Totally Renewable Yackandandah - a community energy group formed in 2014 with the express goal of making Yackandandah’s energy 100% renewable. Ben joined TRY around 2015. At that stage, TRY was “reaching out to different partners to assist us,” he says. “In 2016, we spoke to Mondo, a subsidiary of Ausnet Services, who manage the grid in our part of Victoria. They had the nascent technology, and we had the good sympathetic relationship with the community on our side. It was mutual benefit – they’ve supported us.”
Solar panels installed on the Old Beechworth Gaol, now a social enterprise. Photo: courtesy of Indigo Power.
TRY works with the community on other projects too: it just recently got all the public buildings in town to connect to solar and link together through smartphone apps to form an energy grid. Just recently they’ve been working on connecting the Yackandandah CFA shed to solar and batteries, so that if power’s lost in a disaster such as a bushfire, the vital community hub keeps running. And the benefit then continues through the aftermath: the recovery phase is aided by having a working community building, and locals can use the powered site to reorganise their own lives.
Another TRY project is investigating whether you can “island” a grid, so that if the township’s cut off from the main grid, the local network will keep going. “It’s really promising…” is as much as Cam’s willing to reveal.
TRY’s entirely volunteer-run: it doesn’t even have an office. “The executive committee meetings are held monthly in the Community Centre,” says Cam. “They’ve been great supporters.”
Photo: courtesy of Indigo Power
Cam came on board with TRY in 2017. Both he and Ben have since moved across to one of its flagship successes: Indigo Power. Set up more or less as a conventional energy supplier, Indigo is creating community energy hubs, where customers will be able to keep track of energy supplied by their solar neighbours, and larger-scale solar and battery systems.”
The first larger scale solar and battery installation is planned for Yackandandah. And if completed on schedule, is expected to be the first community owned battery in Australia. “Over time with the Yackandandah Community Battery project, we’ll be able to provide more energy locally, and build up that local grid stability,” says Cam. “We’re hoping to have the batteries set up by June. We fundraised $100,000 to make it viable – it’s still quite an expensive technology at this small scale.”
Rural Australia is ready to lead on clean energy. Photo: Bec Bower.
The successes of TRY and Indigo Power are as much about resilience as they are about innovation. Eastern Victoria fared badly in the summer’s fires, and will suffer through the economic slump in the wake of the COVID crisis, as will many other regional communities.
In the post-COVID recovery phase, Cam is adamant that local initiatives are the answer. “$160 million leaves our region every year in electricity bills,” he says. “It’s hard to know what a post-COVID phase will look like, but if we can start keeping that in our community, it goes to local jobs and investment, and upskilling. It’s a circular economy. We’ve created an environment now where these projects can get up.”
To learn more about TRY visit their website HERE.
Patagonia Roar Journals | https://www.patagonia.com.au/blogs/roaring-journals/bright-sparks-yackandandah-renewable-solar