Five Pemberton volunteers are spearheading a gutsy campaign to launch a community-owned renewable energy project in the heart of one of Western Australia’s long-standing logging regions.
Their vision is to see the entire town of Pemberton, in WA’s southwest region, powered by renewable energy within five years.
Clever Clogs (Community Locally Organised Goals Strategies) spokesperson Rose Ferrell said the group was advocating for a hybrid energy model that would incorporate rooftop solar power already generated by many residents, along with another suitable resource such as wind or hydropower.
Ms Ferrell said the energy would feed into a community-owned microgrid system that would distribute electricity to about 500 households in the town.
The campaign is driven by a practical need for dependable power in the community but also motivated by a growing concern about climate change among residents.
“We have substandard power lines in the area; our transmission lines are so old and starting to fail,” Ms Ferrell said.
“Blackouts and power outages are not uncommon.
“That’s why it’s most suitable for us to have a renewable energy project where we have on-the-ground control of our power.
“But also, many residents are very concerned about climate change; we live in a place highly prone to fires and we’re not convinced we can avoid these disasters if we don’t change what we do.”
In December, Clever Clogs conducted a community survey that showed 100 of the 450 households that received the survey supported the community energy project.
“That support has given us something like a social licence to do what we’re doing.
“Knowing that we have the support of the community is vital for us.”
And central to getting the project off the ground is the support of the local council.
Ms Ferrell is hopeful the council will recognise the economic and employment benefits a community energy project would bring to the area, and play an active role in accelerating its development.
“A community energy project like this would be a significant infrastructure opportunity for Pemberton and would pave the way for larger infrastructure projects in the region,” she said.
“It also brings further opportunities for economic development and will create jobs and training opportunities for locals.
“Community energy projects are emerging all over Australia and many are driven by local governments.
“Some LGAs (Local Government Area) are working together (on joint projects) because they can see the economic benefits it will provide into the future.”
And that is Ms Ferrell’s personal dream; to see the entire region – the former timber towns of Pemberton, Walpole, Northcliff, Manjimup, Quinninup – powered by renewable energy.
“We all face the same problem in ageing transmission lines, old infrastructure and the changing weather patterns, so why not work together,” she said.
According to the national Coalition for Community Energy, there are 20 community energy projects in operation in Australia and over 70 community energy groups advocating for more.
This includes Denmark Community Wind Farm and Katanning Energy (in development), which have provided inspiration for the Pemberton project.
For the five Clever Clogs volunteers, who also have jobs and families of their own, the years of research, data gathering and public engagement ahead doesn’t deter them.
“In small county towns you don’t have to search very hard to discover a passion for our own communities,” Ms Ferrell said.
“It’s becoming more and more obvious that the lifestyle we love in Australia is being eroded because of climate change.
“(The campaign) has been surprisingly uplifting because the alternative is to sit and worry and feel worse.”
Clean State has called on the State Government to establish an annual $20 million climate action fund to support groups like Clever Clogs plan and implement local climate solutions.
Clean State Director Olivia Chapman said a dedicated fund would provide much-needed support for community groups and provide incentives for businesses and local government to collaborate, boost the local economy and create jobs.
“I’m blown away by the Clever Clogs team, its vision and commitment to making this community energy project a reality,” Ms Chapman said.
“These volunteers have undertaken an incredibly exciting yet enormous task that will provide benefits not just for them, but for their entire community for years to come.
“Campaigns like this involve research, writing proposals, hiring consultants, finding and preparing grant applications; this all takes time and resources.
“There are hundreds of valuable climate projects happening across our state but many are run with little or no funding because, while they may exist, funding streams are often complex and difficult to access.
“We need a system that not only empowers and supports people to take action on climate, but makes them part of a coordinated and considered approach.”For information about the Pemberton community energy project, visit the Pemberton People Facebook group.