A Victorian hospital is installing solar panels in a move to cut electricity costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
East Grampians Health Service, in the west of the state, has installed solar panels on its Willaura campus and has begun installation at its Ararat facilities.
It is estimated the solar installation will save the organisation $1.65 million, based on current electricity costs, over the 25-year lifetime of the system.
The solar power project has a strong return on investment for the health service.
East Grampians Health Service board chair Nancy Panter said power cost savings would be invested back into the health service.
"This project is strategically important for our health service as it supports the environmental sustainability of the health system, a goal of the Victorian State Government, while also delivering on our strategic goal of effective financial management," she said.
"The solar power project has a strong return on investment for the health service, significantly reducing our power costs and allowing us the opportunity to invest back into the hospital, which ultimately benefits our community."
The project comes as more hospitals around Victoria are investigating their energy use due to increasing financial pressures.
South Gippsland Hospital has already proved the power of community funded solar installation. It raised $120,000 to install a solar PV and hot water system to save on energy costs and direct funds to clinical care services in 2015.
The East Grampians Health Service project is supported by community fundraising, including a significant donation from long-term Ararat residents and health service supporters Monika Kapp and the late Joe Kapp.
"We are fortunate to have a health service which develops innovative projects such as this, which will enable funds saved to be invested back into projects which benefit patients, clients and residents," Ms Kapp said.
The Ballarat Community Power Hub completed the feasibility study for the solar installation and provided expertise throughout the tender process.
The Community Power Hub was a two year state government program piloted in Ballarat, Bendigo and LaTrobe Valley from June 2017 to June 2019 to develop locally-owned renewable energy projects.
Ballarat Community Power Hub host organisation BREAZE considered 48 community power projects throughout the two year period, completed feasibility studies for many and has supported some projects through to completion.
Ballarat Community Power Hub spokesperson Ian Rossiter said the team was continuing to work with Ballarat General Cemetaries to convert every day operations to solar and electric.
Work is underway to help members of the Mollongghip and District community to realise their vision for community energy, which includes a combination of wind and solar.
It is also working with the Buninyong community to establish a zero emissions project.
A second project with East Grampians Health Services involves investigating the feasibility of installing solar panels on top of the car parking area.
"This could be used as a template other communities could potentially use," Mr Rossiter said.
"We know others like the City of Ballarat are keen to start looking at this concept for large scale car parks, including a consideration for electric vehicles."
Mr Rossiter said there had been key learnings from the Community Power Hub project. that would assist future community power developments.
He said the project highlighted the difficulty to establish community owned and operated renewable energy projects because of the technical requirements of assessment for feasibility and the need for agreements on how the energy will be used.
Mr Rossiter said it was also difficult to progress projects without a committee or incorporated body to manage them long term.
"At a community level there needs to be an entity willing to lead the organisation that can make sure investigations are carried out and structures are put in place to monitor and maintain it for the life of the project, which could be 10 or 20 years," he said.
"That could be a community bank, a local government authority or a local environment group, but it needs to be long lasting."
Although the Ballarat Community Power Hub is not currently funded to continue operating, Mr Rossiter said it was inevitable some of the projects would continue to be developed by the community.
"Wherever you have communities that look at how they can best share their resources, inevitably it comes back to looking to how we can provide reliable, affordable energy and energy that is not polluting," he said.
What does it mean for communities to control their own power?
Community energy projects provide:
- A stable price for power: "Over the last 10 years in particular it has been a real guessing game, and it continues to be with gas, as to what we might be paying for gas and electricity in the future," Mr Rossiter said.
- Retention of funds in local communities rather than to off shore power companies.
- A resilient power system: "Rather than relying on large centralised supplies of energy we are building decentralised systems, meaning we are less dependent and less impacted by major shocks to our supply systems," Mr Rossiter said.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions: "Renewable energy is the most obvious thing we can do to attest climate change," Mr Rossiter said.
What has hosting the Community Power Hub pilot meant for Ballarat?
Ballarat was selected as one of the three pilot locations for the Community Power Hub project due to its strong population growth and geographic, climatic and demographic diversity, according to a Sustainability Victoria report.
Ballarat's active community sustainability group BREAZE was acknowledged for its expertise in electrical generation, so was the region's 'proven appetite' for expanding community energy projects.
Mr Rossiter said hosting the Community Power Hub pilot in Ballarat had strengthened Ballarat's reputation for embracing renewable energy.
"I think it has underpinned the fact Ballarat is renowned as a place that has embraced renewable energy - being at the forefront of early solar park investments, running major events, promoting bio-energy and waste to energy and being on the doorstep to some of the largest installations of wind in western Victoria," he said.
"Ballarat is very much seen as a centre that is going to benefit from the jobs and the investment associated with renewable energy."
State government funding for the Community Power Hub project expired in June 2019 and further investment in the program is yet to be determined by DELWP and Sustainability Victoria.
Mr Rossiter said he hoped similar programs would continue in Ballarat and other areas in Victoria.
"I think it is reasonable to say there has been a lot of goodwill built through the pilot program and there may well be other parts of Victoria that are ready for similar investment," he said.
"There will be many replicable opportunities coming from the work that has been done in this program. With or without government funding there will certainly be a lot more knowledge and capacity for groups like BREAZE to help other groups establish these sorts of projects."