Power to the people

Rowen Park Rec Reserve with solar panels on roof

Jane Hutchinson

Posted December 09, 2020

RACV donates $1 million in solar energy systems for bushfire-prone communities.

The catastrophic bushfires of last summer that devastated many regional towns highlighted the importance of energy resilience during a natural disaster. 

Lights went out, refrigerators switched off and water pumps lost power as electricity poles and wires burned.

“When it’s 40 degrees and it’s dark and you have no running water and there’s a bushfire – in those moments it’s incredibly important to have a reliable power supply,” says RACV Solar chief executive and Gippsland resident Andy McCarthy.

Bringing reliable power to bushfire-prone regional communities is at the heart of an ambitious  $1-million plan by RACV to install solar panels and batteries, free of charge, on 28 community halls, recreation centres, sporting facilities and other public buildings in bushfire-prone areas across Victoria. 

Over the next two years, RACV Solar will design and install solar and battery systems for buildings that play an important role in the community during emergency situations, including sites designated as Emergency Relief Centres, Neighbourhood Safer Places and Bushfire Places of Last Resort. 

Each installation will include rooftop solar plus a battery that can provide back-up power in case the grid goes down, even when the sun isn’t shining. “We’re not just putting solar panels on the roof so people can save on electricity,” says Andy. “We’re providing energy resilience so people will have electricity when they critically need it.”

The program builds on RACV’s commitment to providing renewable energy for more Victorians and will extend beyond regions directly affected by last summer’s bushfires to include communities across the state, from the Grampians in the west to the Otways and high-country towns such as Biggara. 

“We want to support communities that have been really hit hard by this year’s bushfires,” says Andy. “But we also recognise that regions right across Victoria are becoming increasingly bushfire prone.”

The Rowen Park sporting precinct was used as the staging ground by SES and fire crews as they battled last summer’s fires in the north-east of the state. Photo: Supplied
The Rowen Park sporting precinct was used as the staging ground by SES and fire crews as they battled last summer’s fires in the north-east of the state. Photo: Supplied

RACV has consulted with local councils and community groups to identify the most strategic sites that would deliver the greatest benefit to each community. Many of the sites are in remote locations where electricity supply from the grid is unstable and where one road in and one road out leaves the community vulnerable to isolation, cut off from power or communications.  

The first installation, which kicked off this week, is at the Rowen Park sporting precinct in Tallangatta, a small farming community south-east of Wodonga. The facility, which includes sports grounds, function rooms and a kitchen, was used as the staging ground by SES and fire crews as they battled last summer’s fires in the north-east of the state.  

“The solar and battery installation will help provide energy resilience, so if anything like that happens again in the future, at least they have the power to refuel water tanks and keep things going,” says Andy. 

A second installation is also scheduled before Christmas at Omeo Recreation Reserve in fire-ravaged east Gippsland, with further projects planned for next year at sites including Yea Showground, Biggara Hall, Cudgewa Hall, Hawkesdale Community Hall, Harrietville Hall, Dederang Recreation Reserve, Clifton Creek Community Hall and Barrack Reserve in Heathcote. 

As well as being designated meeting points in an emergency, these facilities play a broader community role as hubs for events, sport and other activities that are the cornerstone for connection and support in regional townships. The new solar systems will also improve energy efficiency and deliver year-round savings on power bills.  

RACV is also involving local suppliers and installers in the project to maximise the benefit to the community. “Supporting the community with energy resilience is good, but if we can help create local employment and skills development for the local workforce then we’re providing them with something even greater,” says Andy.  

RACV CEO and managing director Neil Taylor says, “This is a great investment in the safety of our regional communities, while also providing energy resilience in areas prone to bushfires. We believe solar and other renewable energy sources are an important part of achieving a clean energy future for all Victorians.”