A renewable energy system has been installed at an important community facility to cut emissions and prepare it for the bushfire season.
The Hepburn Recreation Reserve is a vital facility for the community throughout the year. In winter it is the home of the Hepburn Burras, while in the summer months it is a nominated "place of last resort" for residents in the event of a bushfire.
As a result, the Recreation Reserve has been boosted to protect it from power outages. A renewable energy system costing almost $32,000 - comprising 76 solar panels and a battery storage system - has recently been installed there.
The 25.08kW solar system, including a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery, was funded through Hepburn Shire Council, community-owned Hepburn Wind and the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance through a grant from Bank Australia and the Hepburn Solar Bulk Buy.
Hepburn Shire Council invested $12,000, Hepburn Wind $4500, the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance $15,318, with $12,500 of that from a Bank Australia grant in addition to $2818 from its Hepburn Solar Bulk Buy program.
Through its Z-NET plan, the Hepburn region is pursuing ambitious targets regarding energy consumption and generation.
The system is another step towards the shire achieving a 100 per cent renewable electricity supply and zero-net energy and emissions by 2029.
It also increases the council's capacity to plan its bushfire response. In February 2019, a frightening fast-moving bushfire was sparked by lightning strikes near Hepburn - Mannings Road.
The fire threatened the township, with residents awoken by emergency crews door knocking homes and urging them to evacuate.
The fire burned through 28-hectares of land and burned as close to three metres from some residences.
"In recent bushfire seasons, Hepburn and the wider state have been hit hard by fires," Hepburn Shire Council mayor, Cr Licia Kokocinski, said.
During past bushfire events, the Hepburn Recreation Reserve has been used as a staging area by the Country Fire Authority, so an independent power source will enhance this use.
"This system increases the resilience of the Hepburn community and capacity to plan for and respond to the threat of bushfires," Cr Kokocinski said.
Rob Law, who is the Executive Officer at the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance, said it was common for the electricity grid to fail during an emergency event such as a bushfire.
He said this meant it was harder for basic support services to be provided at designated places of last resort (for people whose bushfire plan has failed), such as the Hepburn Recreation Reserve.
This solar and battery system is designed to operate if the grid goes down which will enable the Hepburn Recreation Reserve to maintain critical functions during an emergency.Rob Law
"This solar and battery system is designed to operate if the grid goes down which will enable the Hepburn Recreation Reserve to maintain critical functions during an emergency," he said.
The solar battery system is connected to the grid. When the sun is shining, the battery is topped up - energy from the battery is used first before it is drawn from the grid.
In the event of a blackout, the battery can sustain the facility - such as the use of lights or fridges - for a period of up to eight hours, or until the sun appears again.
"The solar-battery system will provide at least one day of power autonomy; more if weather conditions allow, as the Tesla Powerwall and solar power system can continue to work independently for any duration if the grid goes down," Mr Law said.
Manager of Hepburn Wind, Taryn Lane, said it was important that the facility could be a comfortable refuge for the community during the bushfire season, as well as that sporting and other community groups have a constant supply of clean energy.
The system was designed and installed by Specialised Solar - an accredited clean energy solar retailer and supplier for all of the bulk-buy programs organised by the Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance.
On average, the daily electricity usage at the reserve is 61 kilowatt hours throughout the year.
Power usage is much higher in winter than in summer, with the system able to provide enough electricity for use at the site in summer and about a third of the site's requirements in winter.
The solar PV system can generate an average of 88 kilowatt hours per day and is estimated to save the club about 40 to 60 per cent off its power bills each year.
There is also an option to add a generator to the system in future or to increase the size of the solar and battery system.
Jason Dooley, the president of the Hepburn Football and Netball Club, said it was a great result for the community.
"Not only will the new system provide power in a blackout but it will also reduce power costs to our community organisation and reduce the green footprint of the facility," he said.
Senior Sustainability Consultant at Bank Australia, Jarrod Troutbeck, said the company was "really proud" to fund the project and to demonstrate what is possible for the future of communities.
The council is continuing to look for 'behind the meter' projects that will help it meet its Z-NET targets. These can receive funding through its Towards Zero Community Grants program.