Power to the People

On Sustainable House Day, September 8, 2014, Emerald Community House launched the Emerald Community House Going Solar Rooftop Appeal campaign, inspired by the projects of Dandenong Ranges Renewable Energy Association (DRREA). The goal matched our own unique Centre of Resilience (CoR) strategy that underpins every ECH project with a commitment to environmental, built, social and economic resilience. Our plan was to install an off-grid solar array with battery backup to support the power needs of the hall, reducing our carbon footprint and also utility expense.

As a further resilience investment against adversity, we decided to back it up with a diesel generator based on the historical vulnerability of the hills power provision especially during storms or power shedding heat waves. This would allow our community not for profit business to keep going, supporting the community, running the childcare programs, community dining, adult education, providing a recharge facility, internet access and resources to community and business members who may have also lost power. In early 2017, the Emerald Medical Centre became equipped much in the same way and plans are afoot to explore a retrofit of the Old Emerald National Trust listed Bakehouse on the other side of the Medical Centre with a similar power system. Combined with the heritage wood fired oven inside the bakery, we would be developing an off grid precinct in the centre of Emerald, the largest town in the Dandenong Ranges, 50k from Melbourne’s CBD.

To kick off the project in 2014, initial community donations came in from Emerald Village Committee, Emerald For Sustainability (EmFSuS) members and DRREA. We received many enthusiastic letters including support from the Emerald Medical Centre and Cardinia’s Environment and Engineering Department. ECH then topped up the donations to $5000.

ECH submitted a few unsuccessful grant applications over the years to complete the project, when the Commonwealth government through MP Jason Wood’s office contributed $15k toward the project early this year. Followed swiftly by Cardinia’s capital works grant, ECH was successful with their application for a further $15,000 plus GST. ECH is now matching the government sources in a 3 way even split with the local and federal government, totalling up to $45,000. Government, NGOs, businesses, community and individual contributions ensure that a state of the art system will be installed to support “community continuity” as our version of business continuity. The project is expected to be completed by May 2018.

This is a great example of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (NSDR) created by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in Feb 2011. The NSDR calls for a shared responsibility across the government and community spectrum to increase our resilience against disasters. Climate change is certainly a catalyst to the intensity of environmental threats, raising the impact on our everyday lives and dependence on power, especially for emergency information. We hope that our efforts help to ride out climate calamities locally and that more community buildings are kitted out to be their own Centres of Resilience in their high risk communities.

Other solar projects in Emerald:
Emerald Primary School
Emerald Village Pharmacy
Emerald Sheet Metal & Metal Tanks
Falcone & Adams Lawyers
National Australia Bank Emerald