Proposal floated for council-owned energy retailer

A council-owned energy retailer could make it easier for businesses to procure renewable energy, according to the participants of a recent hackathon designed to brainstorm ideas for carbon free communities.

Julian Guess

Thirteen councils participated in the challenge held by the Cities Power Partnership coalition last month. The idea was to challenge participants to think outside the box and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. They were divided into groups to work on certain issues, with two ideas selected ‘judges choice solutions’.

Julian Guess, Sustainability Officer for Yarra Ranges Council, says his group wanted to work on a solution to encourage greater uptake of renewable energy by businesses.

Together with City of Yarra and Wyndham City Council, the team came up with a solution to create a council-owned renewable energy retailer, which was named one of the judge’s choice solutions.

“What we’re thinking is maybe several councils combined to become a retailer of renewable energy,” Mr Guess told Government News.

Councils creating own energy sources

The renewable energy could be sourced from councils’ own facilities, making it easier for businesses and residents to adopt renewable energy, he said.

“Not everybody can have, for example, solar power on their rooftops if they live in an apartment. If they’re renting, it’s quite difficult,” he said.

“If you’re a business, you might be renting the premises as well, or your premise may be shaded. It may not be available to you because you’re part of a bigger retail complex.”

A council-owned energy retailer could also act as an electricity generator, Mr Guess says, by investing in solar and wind farms.

It could also bring about opportunities for councils to partner with community renewable energy groups,  which can face challenges selling their energy after a community scheme is up and running.

“So opening it up in a way that has council becoming a retailer could actually support more community renewable energy groups starting to generate their own electricity,” Mr Guess says.

“So it’ll be a way to help support those groups in what they’re doing, it’ll be a way to get more renewable energy into the system, and it’ll be a way for households and business adopting renewable energy.”

Back to the future

Mr Guess acknowledges there would be some challenges to establishing a council-owned energy retailer, but they wouldn’t be insurmountable.

“It shouldn’t be that difficult given that going back 30 odd years ago there were local councils providing electricity to their residents and business,” he says.

“So this is almost like going back to the future in doing something that we used to do, before some of the electricity supplier generators were privatised and local government was taken out of the equation.”

Some local governments are already selling and distributing drinking water, which Mr Guess says could provide a model for an energy scheme.

Yarra Ranges Council has completed the first stage of its feasibility study to create solar farms.

The other idea from the hackathon to catch the judge’s eye was a proposed collaboration between councils to plan and install electric vehicle charging stations in strategic locations pitched by Nillumbik, Manningham, City of Yarra and Moonee Valley councils.

All the ideas presented at the hackathon remain in the workshopping phase, with no plans for next steps and implementation set as yet.

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