Geoff Gourley

26 February 2013 — When rainwater continued to leak through the 40-year-old roof of the South Melbourne Market, despite unsuccessful patching attempts, it was clear a permanent solution was needed.

So in February last year, the City of Port Phillip commissioned a $4.4 million roof – and also stopped to consider energy efficiency and the future.

The new roof was given a “saw tooth design” that was rotated horizontally so that half the surface area of the roof faced due north and could accommodate 1000 solar panels – creating about 300 kiloWatts.

Unfortunately the council’s budget was just 136 solar panels to produce 34 kiloWatts – but wait, there’s more.

While NuGreen Solutions delivered and commissioned the 136-panel project, including connection back to the grid, local community group LIVE saw the chance to organise a project that would see members of the community fund the solar panels to cover the remainder of the roof.

Sale of the electricity generated would provide a financial return for community investors with LIVE’s inspiration the Hepburn Wind project, just out of Daylesford in country Victoria.

By the time construction of the new roof was completed in December last year, LIVE had negotiated an agreement with the council to conduct a technical and financial feasibility study to determine the technical options available, the associated costs and cash flows that would be generated.

After a public tender, a consultant was selected by a committee comprised of council staff and LIVE board members.

Geoff Gourley, who multi-tasks as NuGreen Solutions sustainability integration director, LIVE volunteer, Hepburn Wind shareholder and City of Port Phillip resident, said while the final feasibility study had not been delivered, a number of models had been investigated.

They included:

  • Selling shares to the community to raise funds then building the project when the funds are raised.
  • Selling shares to the community, obtaining debt finance and building the project.
  • Selling shares to the community and engaging a PV solar provider who will finance the project until all funds are raised.
  • Establishing the entity as a not-for-profit registered to receive donations and raise the money through community donations. Also known as the “buy a brick” model.
  • Having a utility pay for the project and the community purchase “green power” from the utility.
  • Selling shares to the community and having a utility underwrite the project. The utility offsets shareholder electricity accounts relative to their ownership of panels within the project.

“We are now at a stage where delivery of the feasibility study is imminent,” he said.

“LIVE Community Power now has a volunteer team of 24 local people who are keen to devote their time, and skills, for free, to see the project through to completion in 2013.

“The volunteer team will debate the options and a pathway will become apparent. We will then need to put what we decide to the council, for it is a council roof, and it is the council who will be the most logical customer for the electricity generated.

“If a way can be found to make the project financially viable we are confident the community will step up to the mark and invest.”

Mr Gourley said he believed that once the roof was completed with its 1000 solar panels, other councils, both metropolitan and regional, would look to the project for inspiration.

He said projects like the South Melbourne Market roof and Hepburn Wind, meant anyone could become involved in a solar or wind project.

“If someone is living in a heritage-listed property that can’t have solar panels on the roof, or renting a small apartment, they can still become a shareholder in a project. It opens up accessibility for everyone.

“You can subsidise your own power costs. It’s community-based.”