A fuller version of this story is available at reneweconomy.com.au
A community investment plan at Sapphire Wind Farm could be the turning point the wind industry has needed for years.
While community ownership of roof-top solar has snowballed, public investment in larger solar farms, such as Canberra’s Solar Share, has been growing steadily as well. Lower upfront capital costs and relatively simple design requirements have been putting solar projects within reach of community based organisations for a number of years.
This year could see community investment take a huge leap forward.
In contrast to solar projects, wind farms are big projects with high upfront capital costs, long lead times in the planning system and complex design requirements. Which might be why there has only been a trickle, rather than a flood, of community led projects in Australia. Hepburn Wind and Denmark Community Wind Farm have led the way with fully community-owned structures. No community group has yet replicated this model, nor have there been other models emerge to allow community investment in wind.
This might be about to change, with northern NSW’s Sapphire Wind Farm giving the green light to direct community investment this week.
In an industry-leading move, the wind farm’s developer, CWP Renewables, will allow individuals, the so-called mum-and-dad investors, to invest alongside the big pension funds. Traditionally these funds have been the only ones with sufficient capital to own and benefit from these multi-million dollar projects. Opening up this opportunity could change the way we think about the ownership of renewable energy in Australia and help drive the financial benefits more directly to the regional towns and communities that host them.
The announcement was prepared by an extensive period of community education around community ownership of renewable energy. AWA was pleased to be involved in hosting Danish renewable energy expert, Søren Hermansen, nearly a year ago on a speaking tour around the New England region. His infectious humour and story of turning his small Danish holiday isle of Samsø 100% renewable was a great inspiration to the hundreds of people who heard him speak.
A period of community investment testing throughout the New England region followed. A very positive community response saw 337 community members pledge to invest more than $5 million in the project.
The Australian Wind Alliance is a strong advocate of innovative and genuine community benefit sharing, and are pleased to see Sapphire Wind Farm exploring ways to share the benefits of a wind farm with the local region.
For more information about the project, visit the project website.
Image Credit: Sapphire Wind Farm