Bega is not a city. It could be called a growing town, but that could also be an exaggeration. So what place does this rural NSW community of less than 5000 people have on a website about city trends and urban ideas? The answer is a community energy project that is both forward thinking and practical. It's something many cities in Australia and around the world could learn from.
In 2012 the Bega Library had solar panels installed on it's roof by NSW government-owned corporation, Essential Energy. The solar panel network provides not only a self-sufficient, energy efficient library, but also stores energy in a battery bank that can supply power to the community grid and reduces electricity costs for ratepayers and the council. The project is part of a larger trial in the Bega Valley of Essential Energy's Intelligent Network. The trial, a first for regional NSW, includes the use of in-home displays and meters, power line sensors and other automated equipment, and LED lights for Bega's main street street-lighting, which are both brighter and more power efficient.
Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, said of the project in the Bega District News, "Over the past few years we've seen a lot of interest and investment in both larger-scale commercial and individual home solar generation in NSW, but, until now, no-one has focused on its use in providing low-cost, clean energy for community assets or small population clusters." Mr Constance also stated that in the future, renewable energy systems of this kind will improve power supply quality and offer a more cost-effective and sustainable energy solution for neighbourhood communities.
With Australia's environmental policies and strategies constantly being debated, particularly with reference to the Carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme, it's nice to see an effective forward-thinking renewable energy project with clear goals actually being realised for the benefit of both local community and the environment, even if it is only on a small scale. But the idea behind the project of providing efficient renewable energy sources for communities is a trend that can be seen in many other places on many scales. For example, the City of Sydney currently has a new renewable energy master plan on exhibition which outlines how 100% of the City’s electricity, heating and cooling can come from renewable energy sources by 2030, using renewable electricity and renewable gases. And the European Commission has outlined that the EU aims to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.