Hepburn Energy reported a very successful year at its Annual General Meeting last Saturday. About 70 people attended at the Victoria Park Pavilion.
Since 2011 the turbines on Leonard’s Hill have offset 123,000 tonnes of CO2 going into the atmosphere. This past year, two new electric vehicle charging stations have been put in place.
Bulk buy schemes for EVs and heat pumps have been made available to locals. Hepburn Energy has partnered with the Shire and local sustainability groups for a range of projects as part of the Hepburn Z-NET project to reduce carbon emissions. These programs generated $876,479 of community value in the prior financial year. A community electricity offer is being trialed and a partnership with licensed electricity retailer Flow Power has been negotiated.
In the last year, Hepburn Energy reported revenue of approximately $1.2 million with $0.7m of operating spending. After taking depreciation for the $12 million cost of the wind turbines into account the cooperative reported a net profit of $359,494.
All a significant achievement for a small, community cooperative energy supplier. One that demonstrates for others the local possibilities for tackling the threat of climate change.
However, market conditions are volatile. For the electricity grid to remain stable, energy supply and demand have to be balanced.
Chair of the Board Graham White reported that maximum renewable market penetration can now reach 70 percent, with an average of about 30 percent renewable penetration.
As a result when the wind and sun are at their peak fossil fuel energy producers often bid into the energy market with negative prices to outbid renewable providers- effectively paying to put fossil fuel energy into the grid so they don’t have to shut their plant down.
Mr White said a number of the fossil fuel energy providers have retail arms and they adjust their retail prices to cover their losses. Something smaller providers like Hepburn Energy are unable to do. When prices go negative, Hepburn Energy has to shut off its turbines.
Cooperative members expressed their surprise that the design of the energy market had not kept pace with as renewables have gained traction, allowing fossil fuel providers to ‘game’ the market.
There are concerns that if this recent, escalating trend continues it has the potential to threaten the viability of Hepburn Energy.
But the cooperative is taking a number of steps to counter the problem.
It has secured grant fund from the Commonwealth Government for a community battery. This will allow it to store energy when prices are low and sell when prices are high.
Hepburn Energy is also looking to establish stronger retail sales arrangements and negotiate power purchase agreements that will underwrite its energy price into the grid.
The cooperative continues to examine the possibility of establishing a solar farm to complement its wind energy production and is awaiting federal government subsidies such as the announced Solar Bank program. The Leonard’s Hill site has achieved a planning permit for a solar farm and Hepburn Energy has already got the necessary infrastructure to feed solar energy into the grid from the site.