Power To The People: Renewable energy and the councils doing it for themselves
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Power To The People: Renewable energy and the councils doing it for themselves

Issues/Environment , Stories/301 , Issues/Sustainability , Issues/Policy
Potts Point NSW 2011, Australia
3rd May 2018
Power To The People:  Renewable energy and the councils doing it for themselves
The Cities Power Partnership (CPP) helps local councils set and reach their own targets for transitioning to renewable power.

From little things, big things grow. Or that's what Paul Kelly crooned to me over the radio the other day. Kelly was singing about the struggle for land rights of the Gurindji people in Wave Hill in the 60's. Now, in a very different kind of struggle, we're seeing little councils tackle another problem from the ground up: the intractable and confounding mess that is renewable energy policy in this country. I sat down with Alix Pearce, Director of the Cities Power Partnership, to talk all things renewables and people power.

The Cities Power Partnership (CPP) is a project run by the Climate Council, Australia's peak body for climate change advocacy and scientific research. The CPP connects councils from around the country in a 'buddy' system to help them set and reach their own targets on transitioning to renewable power, whether it's bulk buying solar, moving to electric buses, or transforming old landfills into solar farms. "What that looks like," says Pearce, "is we provide councils with research, knowledge support, emissions tracking tools, partnerships, media profiling and events... So, kind of all the things they need, I guess, to accelerate action". So, say you're a council and you want to transition your local library to solar power. Through the CPP, you'll be given analytics tools to budget your costs and measure your energy savings, linked up with a council who did the same thing, and given access to a database to share your pitfalls and triumphs.

Source: Unsplash.
Source: Unsplash.

The fact that the CPP allows councils to exist in this space without the oversight or approval from state and federal bureaucratic overlords is hugely liberating, and to some extent, unbelievable. Onkaparinga is a council in South Australia which has embraced the very real challenge which faces them. Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg says that the CPP lets councils become a part of a national solution. "Local Government can't sit on its hands and wait for solutions to come to us from other tiers of government or external organisations... we must build capacity together and develop our own ways".

In the CPP's initial stages, Pearce approached councils herself, signing them up to be "Power Partners" and selling the CPP's agenda: empowering local councils to just do it for themselves. Then, Pearce says, the CPP became overwhelmed by the enthusiasm. The CPP currently has 70 councils signed up and represents over eight million Australians around the country. "We're on track to hit 100 councils in July," Pearce says confidently. The momentum does not seem to be slowing.

Source: Unsplash.
Source: Unsplash.

Some councils who traditionally may not have considered renewables in the past have been driven there by the consistent raising of electricity prices around the nation. Price hikes are also often felt more acutely in parts of regional Australia than in cities. In a community like the Shire of Strathbogie in regional Victoria, the push towards cleaner energy wasn't just a cause championed by the region's eco-conscious. Soaring energy prices had left older residents reluctant to turn on their heaters in the biting inland winters. This, says Pearce, is how the "Bogie Bulk Buy" came to be. "The Bogie what-what?," I ask. It sounds like a giant, benevolent monster from a kid's book and she repeats it twice for me before I understand what it is we're talking about.

Far from being a warty fairy-tale creation, the Bogie Bulk-Buy is in fact a hugely successful venture which came out of the Cities Power Partnership. As of April, 500 kilowatts (that's a lot, I checked) have been purchased by Strathbogie residents, saving nearly 20,000 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. The scheme has since been picked up by six other Victorian councils.

I ask Pearce whether local council action is enough, or whether councils still need to be agitating for state governments to do more. "Ultimately we want action at all levels of action of climate change", she says. "That's the only way we're going to drastically reduce emissions. But I think with [the CPP], we'll see action catching up at the state level and the national level." It's clear that the CPP is not just an afternoon craft project for councils to busy themselves with. While Canberra determinedly continues with a climate change strategy which can only properly be summed up as "dilly-dallying", the Cities Power Partnership is a way for local players to make small, powerful changes themselves. Instead of waiting for high-level policymakers to notice them in the hallway.

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