Going solar for a good cause

John Street Early Childhood Co-op will be gifted with rooftop solar panels thanks to a community vote, the Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF) announced on Monday.

The generous donation is credited to the ‘Richmond Solar Bulk Buy’, a program run by the YEF that gave Richmond residents the opportunity to access solar panels at a lower cost, and benefit the community at the same time.

Richmond locals at the Yarra Energy Foundation. Photo: Kathryn Lewis
Richmond locals at the Yarra Energy Foundation. Photo: Yarra Energy Foundation

Yarra Energy Foundation CEO Sarah Johnson said the program gives residents access to solar as “affordably and efficiently” as possible.

“By aggregating a group of people we are able to push the price down … we will often get a discount on what is currently available on the market,” Johnson said.

A bulk buy is a great solution for residents; the YEF does all the leg work to find the best quality solar panels for the lowest price, and then hands it over to the community.

The supplier is chosen based on the quality of the panels, affordability and efficiency, ensuring all bulk-buy customers will “be enjoying solar before Christmas,” Johnson said.

At the outset of the program the aim was for 120 confirmed sales. YEF distributed information to homes across Richmond, resulting in 300 registrations of interest by the time the program closed on 15 October.

Solar panels are a way of reducing carbon emissions and energy costs. Photo: Kathryn Lewis
Solar panels are a way of reducing carbon emissions and energy costs. Photo: Yarra Energy Foundation

“We only just closed the program on Saturday, there are 20 sales [so far]. We expect about 25 per cent conversion so we are hoping for 75-plus sales,” Solar Projects Manager Claire Havens said.

There is an added bonus in the Richmond residents making the move to solar; YEF donates solar panels to a local community initiative based on the total amount of energy output sold through the program.

“It’s a bit of an added incentive really, to try and get as many people signed up and feel like, not only will they benefit from the installation of solar but that someone else will benefit as well,” Johnson said.

Five community initiatives were nominated by Richmond locals: Collingwood Children’s Farm, Circus Oz, Finbar Neighbourhood House and John St Childcare cooperative. All residents expressing interest in the program were able to vote on the winner.

There is still a lot to come from the YEF, with plans to move bulk buys across other Yarra suburbs.

“Tell us where you want us to go next. We’re trying not to make unilateral decisions and ensure that we are beginning a conversation with people who live in the [City of] Yarra,” Johnson said.

The YEF was set up by the Yarra council and continues to work in collaboration with them, something Johnson finds “invaluable”.

“It has been a great leadership moment, in terms of understanding the ability of an independent organisation to be perhaps a little nimbler than a council is able to be,” Johnson said.

By Kathryn Lewis

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