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Enova is just the start of community renewables on the rise

Enova chair Alison Crook

Enova Community Energy’s initial public offering for its northern NSW solar power retailer and installation company is the latest in a new wave of community and social enterprise activity in the solar and renewable energy market that stretches from Cowra, to Shoalhaven, Sydney’s Darling Harbour and the ACT. And the kind of support Enova has garnered points to growing strength in the sector.

Former Australian Businesswoman of the Year Alison Crook is chair of the company. Co-founders include former Origin Energy head of sustainability and GreenPower program founder Steve Harris as chief executive; Patrick Halliday as energy technology manager; marketing expert Melissa Mac Court; and directors Robert Rosen, Mara Bun, Peter Colby and Tony Pfieffer, currently general manager effective market reform for Ergon Energy.

Seed funding has come from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and it has the backing of local councils including Lismore, Ballina, Byron Shire, Kyogle, Richmond and Tweed. Its formal licence to sell electricity is due to be granted by the end of this year, the company said.

Enova is seeking $4 million for its venture, and is believed to be the first energy company of its kind in Australia. It has committed to purchasing renewable energy from local sources, including providing a higher-than-market feed-in tariff price for domestic solar owners.

Ms Crook said there was strong positive indications of support.

“The initial response from the community has been very positive with people pledging their immediate support,” Ms Crook said. Enquiries have been received from around the country from potential investors, and a range of local organisations and individuals have also agreed to invest in the initiative, she said.

The initial feasibility study funded by OEH and supported by the Total Environment Centre found it was feasible for the community to own and operate an energy company if it could raise a minimum of $3 million for start up and working capital.

“We estimate as much as $80 million a year flows out of the region in operating expenditure and profits to existing energy companies,” Ms Crook said.

“Our aim is to capture as much of this as possible for the region. Returns will be made through a combination of dividends and social benefit projects, as well as direct and indirect job opportunities within the region. Importantly, Enova Energy is being established with the specific aim to reduce carbon emissions.”

Shares commence at $1000, and the IPO is open until 25 September.

While Enova might be first to hit the starting blocks as a retailer, the community-owned renewable power trend is gathering momentum.

On the south coast, non-profit Repower Shoalhaven installed an investor-owned solar project on the roof of the Shoalhaven Bowling Club last year, and has since completed a second installation in the Illawarra on Figtree Anglican Church and Nowra City Church.

Sydney Renewable Power Company’s 520kW Darling Harbour community-owned solar installation, which is currently under construction on the roof of the International Convention Centre, has brought forward the date of its initial public offering.

The project was initiated by community solar adviser Embark. The organisation’s executive director, Andy Cavanagh-Downs, said the finishing touches were being made to the initial public offering for Sydney Community Solar is now on track for October (previously September).

He said the project was building a “a lot of community engagement” on Facebook and other social media.

“The response has been very enthusiastic and supportive,” Mr Cavangh-Downs said.

Embark is also supporting a bio mass project in Cowra in association with New England-based not-for-profit community energy entrepreneurs Starfish Enterprises.

Another community-owned solar company is in the process of readying itself for incorporation in Canberra, SolarShare aims to develop a 1MW community-owned solar farm in the Majura Valley and retail the energy to customers, returning profits to shareholders.

The initiative has been driven by ACT sustainability group SEE-Change, and an initial proposal has been submitted to the ACT Government.

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