Today three large energy companies all involved with CSG dominate the retail space. Backed by their large fossil fuel generation, they account for a third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Supported by distribution companies with a central grid mindset, electricity is transported hundreds of kilometres, incurring significant losses along the way. Add to this a doubling of energy prices over the past five years, an inadequate response from the federal government on climate change, it’s little wonder consumers are looking for a better way to meet their energy needs. So what is the solution? We spoke to Alison Crook, Chair of Enova Energy, to find out more about their community owned renewable energy alternative.
There’s a lot of talk of Community Energy at the moment what do you see as the future trend in power supply?
There is no doubt the future in power supply will involve battery storage technology. This will have a bigger impact on the electricity supply than solar PV has had over the last 5 years. Battery storage is likely to change the way we interact with the grid, where we become partners with the distribution businesses in assisting them manage peak energy demands to avoid costly upgrades to the grid. Enova Energy is well placed to provide equipment and advice and to negotiate with networks for the best outcomes for our customers, so our customers can make a real difference. Where individuals or groups want to go off grid completely we can provide advice on when and how it will be cost effective to do so, carry out installations, and provide maintenance.
How has Enova Energy come about?
There had been discussion in the region for some years about energy options. Kim Mallee, then Sustainability Officer, Byron Shire Council and myself went to the community energy conference in Canberra in July 2014 and on returning decided to get a group together who were interested in making change happen. This evolved into a group of four people who pursued and won a grant offered by a consortium of the Total Environment Centre (TEC), NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), and sustainability officers from Regional councils to carry out a feasibility study and develop a Business Plan for a community energy retailer. Once we got underway, Steve Harris, now our CEO contacted us and we have been developing it ever since.
The major power suppliers are also talking about investing in green initiatives, what are your points of difference?
Being Australia’s first community owned renewable energy retailer includes being a social enterprise committed to creating local jobs, and delivering local economic and environmental benefits. We do this through offering a range of affordable renewable energy options from ethical sources. We will also offer energy education, advice and technology to local households and businesses to assist the community to manage energy more efficiently; and we will facilitate community efforts to generate more local renewable energy by supporting local innovation and technological advances in energy.
We are local, personal, and we care. We are not big, bureaucratic and one size fits all! We can tailor projects to work with the community on green initiatives. As people demonstrate in various ways that they want to adopt alternative energy solutions, we’ll be there to provide advice and help make it happen.
We intend to offer the best 100% Green Power price and the best Feed-in Tariff.
Another important part of our project is that we are here to ensure all socio-economic groups can share in the Renewable Energy Revolution that is underway, and that the needs of vulnerable households already struggling with energy prices can be addressed.
What does ‘community owned’ really mean for the community?
That we are committed to ensuring that Enova Energy is at least majority owned by the community (as Shareholders) and that it stays that way. We have written the constitution so this is ensured. We will only exist if the community wants us to and demonstrates that by investing in us and purchasing from us.
It also translates into significant community benefits with direct employment and flow on jobs in many areas of the community. Dividends will return to the community and a constitutionally guaranteed 50% of profits will flow back into the community benefit projects, and facilitation of ever increasing community renewable energy generation.
So Why the Northern Rivers as your base?
We are fortunate enough to live in the pristine Northern Rivers environment and we feel an obligation to help protect that environment. We also have a community that really understands what it means to be a community and to support each other. It’s a community that demonstrably is aware of the reality of climate change and wants to do something constructive about it. If any region can show how the renewable industry can both create employment and reduce our impact on the environment, this region can.
How can people get involved?
People can get involved in a number of ways, they can:
• Request a prospectus, available from July, by signing up on: www.enovaenergy.com.au
• Help spread the word, and tell other people about us
• Volunteer to work with the Not for Profit (NFP) arm of the business
• Register their interest in buying energy through us (retailing expected in September)
An Australian First
This is the first time that a community owned renewable energy retailer has been viable in Australian history. It’s no mean feat to become a legal entity in the power industry especially when you’re offering an alternative to the traditional power sources and going head to head with the big 3.
Part of the Enova Energy mission is to spread the word and show that it is possible to create community power and they aspire to create a commercially and socially vibrant model that can be copied by like-minded communities across Australia.
Two of the team, Steve Harris and Patrick Halliday, recently spoke at the successful Byron Solar Revolution Symposium. An enthusiastic audience had many interesting questions for keynote speakers Prof. Tim Flannery and Giles Parkinson and also for the panels that followed. Good connections were strengthened and new connections made.
When speaking to the team or listening to their presentations it’s the passion for bringing about change that shines through. Their commitment to bringing about people’s power, literally allowing people to be involved in producing and owning their own power and supporting their community is compelling. One thing for sure is that the source of Northern Rivers energy is heading for change.
For more information visit: www.enovaenergy.com.au.
Meet the Team
The team has some great credentials between them, which are part of the reason they have come so far.
Alison Crook is well known in the business world, she has served on some 17 boards in both private and public sectors including IBM Australia, Lend Lease Corporate Financial Services, St James Ethics Centre and Australian Volunteers International. Along the way she has been named as Australian Business Woman of the Year, and Australian Business Leader of the Year (Professions), been awarded an AO for services to public administration and a Centenary Medal for services to business.
CEO Steven Harris brings two decades of NSW energy sector experience with him having held senior roles at Powercorp and Origin Energy, heading up the sustainability team and establishing Australia’s first Green Power program with over 500,000 customers
Patrick Halliday, Co-Founder and Energy Technology Manager is a passionate supporter of renewable energy. “This shire and its community are currently at the forefront of nationally significant renewable energy initiatives. With Beyond Zero Emissions and Council supporting a whole of shire approach, across all sectors, we are even stronger and even more able to lead Australia.”
Mara Bun, Director and Resilience Strategist, is a Non-Executive Director of the Boards of Green Cross Australia, Australian Ethical Investments, and now Enova Energy. She began her career as a Financial Analyst with Morgan Stanley for 5 years specialising in high technology finance. Since then she has been involved in a number of humanitarian projects and held leadership roles with The Wilderness Society, Greenpeace Australia, Macquarie Bank, Allen Consulting Group, Canstar and CSIRO.
Robert Rosen, Director, played a pioneering role in development of the socially responsible investment industry in Australia. With a background in accounting and property investment he’s an experienced Director including: Nature Conservation Trust of NSW (Chairman/Director), Rainforest Rescue (Chairman/Director), Bush Heritage Australia (Treasurer/Director) and Australian Ethical Investment Ltd (Director).
Melissa Mac Court, Co-Founder and Marketing Manager, has experience in marketing and business development spanning many sectors including IT Software, sustainable material, events, convention and exhibitions, tourism, sports products, NFPs and government organisations. Melissa owns her own local marketing services business and has previously held many senior executive roles in both start-up companies and large organisations.