About the Blue Mtns Renewable Energy Co-op

We are a volunteer group of people from the Blue Mountains, Australia, working together to create community-owned renewable energy projects right here in our unique World-Heritage listed area.

Learn more about what community energy is here.

How did we start?

In September 2011, a public forum on renewable energy was organised by Permaculture Blue Mountains, Katoomba Area Climate Action Now (now Climate Action Blue Mountains) and Transition Blue Mountains. While the idea of a community energy project in the Blue Mountains had been talked about previously in these sustainability-oriented groups, the forum provided momentum to move the idea forward.

Soon after, Climate Action Blue Mountains members invited community energy expert Nicky Ison, a Founding Director of the Community Power Agency, to visit the Blue Mountains and assist in developing the first steps of such a project. Nicky spoke at an information night, focused solely on community-owned renewable energy, in late November 2011 and followed that with a ‘first-steps’ workshop on 3 December.

The project began to take shape and the Blue Mountains Renewable Energy Co-operative (BMRenew) was informally created.

First year

While community energy is a mature part of the energy sector in parts of Europe and North America, it is still in its infancy in Australia. When residents of the Blue Mountains hatched the idea of building community-owned renewable energy generation locally, there was a single existing community energy project, Hepburn Wind, which had only officially launched a month before our first steps workshop. In other words, we had a steep learning curve and spent considerable time investigating group structures, governance options, renewable energy technologies, business models and more.

Working in between day jobs, family commitments and more, we slowly built the size of the group, put in place operating structures, defined our vision and goals, reached out to other local organisations including council and researched technology, finance and legal issues.

Vision

Creating a community owned renewable energy future.

Mission

Inspire and facilitate local, community owned renewable energy generation and energy efficiency initiatives, for the benefit of the environment and the community.

Objectives

  • To create decentralised locally owned renewable energy generation
  • To return financial benefits to our community
  • To bring affordable renewable energy to our community
  • To inform, engage and activate our community about our energy potential
  • To be a model for cooperative, inclusive and successful community driven projects

Technology Choices

Unlike many other community energy groups, who start with a specific project in mind when they form, BMRenew has a big vision and knew early on that we were open to different technologies to achieve our aims. However, selecting a specific technology and basic parameters like scale was one of the key questions that we explored early on. We initially narrowed our focus to three options:

  • Commercial scale solar photovoltaics (PV) – in other words, a solar array significantly larger than a household system but appropriately sized for the day-time electricity consumption of a business, community or government facility. Examples would include shopping centres, light industrial businesses, swimming pools or community centres
  • Waste-to-energy (pyrolysis) – a fairly nascent technology, but a sophisticated way of using biomass for stationary electricity generation. Pyrolysis is currently only deployed in a pilot form in Australia but has great potential as both a source of clean energy and a solution to reducing green and organic waste in landfill, alongside composting.
  • Wind turbines – subject to further investigation and discussion with the local community, there is an excellent high wind area in the corridor betwen Lithgow and Oberon, outside the World Heritage Area and National Parks of the Blue Mountains. This area is also close to large capacity sections of the electricity grid in place to take power from the coal power stations near Lithgow, one of which is now mothballed (not operating).

The group, some members in particular, did a lot of work investigating the waste-to-energy option taking it to a near pre-feasibility stage. However, a draft change of policy by the NSW Government made it unproductive to continue pursuing the project – that policy has now reversed, making the waste-to-energy plant a live option again. However, in the interim, the group pursued commercial solar as an alternative and is focused on delivering a first solar project before taking on a different technology.

Official Launch & Formation

Michael presents at BM Renew launch

In August 2013, we held the official public launch for the Blue Mountains Renewable Energy Co-op (read more about it here) and by the end of the same month, formed officially as a registered co-operative with a board of nine directors. We are currently (as of mid 2014) a non-distributing (or non-trading) co-operative with no provision for issuing shares – this makes us a not-for-profit entity legally, but this may change once we work out the final details of the financial model for our first commercial solar project and we are committed to finding a model that makes a sound return for local investors as well as returning benefits to the community.

Official documents

Projects & Teams

Our current projects are:

  • Commercial Solar (as described above)
  • Residential Solar (a project to connect people looking to install rooftop solar with independent information and offers from local installers)

We also have four loose working groups: Technology, Community Engagement, Finance and Facilitation – see the diagram below. Working groups report to members of the Co-op at monthly meetings, held every 2nd Saturday of the month at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre from 12pm to 2pm.

Get Involved

Does this all sound like something you would like to be part of? We are building an exciting future for the Blue Mountains, one where we can take control of – and responsibility for – our own energy production and deliver lasting benefits to the community in terms of local jobs, sustainability, investment, community and more. The best thing you can do first is join the co-op, then check out our get involved page and get in touch if you’d like to chat about what we’re doing and how you can help us make it better. Enquiries: Michael on 0421 210 074 or info@bmrenew.org

JOIN

Organisational Structure

We chose the legal structure of a co-operative because it matches our values and reinforces the way we want to do business.

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

International Cooperative Alliance

Co-operatives are formed around seven principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

This is roughly how our working groups interact and take responsibility for different aspects of the organisation.

Group Structure Diagram for Blue Mountains Renewable Energy Co-op