Eastern Grampians Health Service is taking control of its power in a move to cut electricity costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
A proposal to install 225kW of solar PV systems on the roof of the health service’s Ararat and Willaura campuses has been selected as the Ballarat Community Power Hub’s flagship project.
Ballarat Community Power Hub spokesperson Ian Rossiter said the installation of solar would save the organisation $1.65 million based on current electricity costs over the 25 year lifetime of the system.
“Savings accrued to hospital in energy costs will be retained in local economies instead of going offshore to overseas power suppliers,” he said.
Renewable energy, bio-energy, wind and solar provides the ultimate solution.Ian Rossiter, Ballarat Community Power Hub
“That money will be targeted to acute, aged care and staff development and training to improve retention of quality staff which is a problem in regional areas.”
Ballarat Community Power Hub host organisation BREAZE has coordinated and facilitated the development of initiatives where a community group develops, operates and benefits from renewable energy.
Ballarat Community Power Hub and East Grampians Health Service is working with Ararat community members and organisations to launch an appeal to fund the installation of solar at the Ararat and Willaura hospitals.
The solar project will also include the installation of car park shelters with mounted solar PV systems, a development Mr Rossiter said would also help a future transition to electric vehicles.
Mr Rossiter said the team was confident it could quickly realise fundraising goals through community support, benefactors, philanthropic groups and grant applications.
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.
Mr Rossiter said more hospitals were investigating their energy use as financial pressures increased.
“All of the state run hospitals in Victoria procure their power through a bulk contract through Health Purchasing Victoria. Last year their energy costs rose significantly which put financial pressure on the hospitals, triggering many to look at reducing their energy consumption or producing their own renewable energy,” he said.
“More hospitals will be looking at their energy use, being entities that run 24/7 and aware of increasing technologies in the medical area and the need for safe, affordable and reliable supply of electricity, heating and cooling. Renewable energy, bio-energy, wind and solar provides the ultimate solution.”
Meanwhile, Ballarat Community Power Hub is working with other community groups and organisations on projects already in the pipeline.
Mr Rossiter said the team was continuing to work with Ballarat General Cemetaries to convert every day operations to solar and electric, one of a number of community power projects underway in the region.
Work is underway to help members of the Mollongghip and District community to develop their vision for community energy, which includes a combination of wind, solar and pumped hydro.
“We always wanted to run this pilot program as a source of making sure we could flesh out community ideas for renewable energy and provide the technical feasibility and a business case,” Mr Rossiter said.
“There is going to be some great legacy information coming out of this program community groups and individuals will be able to use for their own investment in renewable energy.”
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 expires 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.”