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Warburton community turns on $1.2 million hydro power plant

29 October 2018 |Community
Bendigo Bank and Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank® Branches significantly underpin community-led initiative

After almost 10 years in planning and development, a community-owned $1.2 million mini hydro power plant has started generating power in the Victorian town of Warburton.

The new system is powering the equivalent of 150 Warburton homes, by selling the electricity generated to retailer Powershop who sell power to local customers. Upper Yarra Community Enterprise (UYCE), the owner and operator of the plant via wholly owned subsidiary Upper Yarra Community Power, returns the majority of profits generated from the new system to important community initiatives. UYCE operates the Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank® branches.

The new sustainable energy system, a collaboration between Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank® Branches, Bendigo Bank, Yarra Ranges Council, Victorian State Government, Powershop and other commercial and community contributions, produces a maximum of 100kW of power and can operate around the clock. Estimates indicate up to 700 tonnes of carbon – equivalent to 444 SUVs1 - will be spared from the environment each year as a result of the alternate energy source. Environmental design considerations ensure a minimum creek flow and water life is not affected.

Located at the site of an original hydro energy system that operated in 1919 to supply electricity to the local town before it connected to the energy grid and was later decommissioned, the hydro scheme has been made possible by contributions of funds and support from Bendigo Bank, Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank® Branches and the State Government, which has contributed $450,000 through the New Energy Jobs Fund. Yarra Ranges Council and Powershop provided significant in-kind assistance during the project.

The Warburton hydro scheme comes at a time when energy security is a major national issue, with the recent closure of the coal-fired Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley and ongoing debate out Australia’s energy mix and the role of renewables.

The new system, located on the Warburton Golf Course, draws water from the ever-flowing Ythan Creek underground into a turbine and converts it into energy before every drop of water is returned to the creek. The Ythan Creek has not stopped flowing in any recorded history.

The project was inspired by two golfers who were playing on the steep course and thought the old scheme could be restored to its former glory.

The majority of profits from Community Bank® branches are returned to local communities through Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s innovative business model, with the remaining returned to local community shareholders.

“We’re incredibly proud to support this empowering and environmentally-conscious community-driven generated project. The role of our bank is to feed into prosperity, not off it. Our business operates with a social conscious for the benefit of our customers and their communities and this scheme is just one example of many nationwide that has seen the Community Bank® model deliver more than $205 million in profits to Australian communities,” said Rodney McKail, Chairman of Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank® Branches.

“Central to the success of the project has been the collaboration of the Upper Yarra Community Enterprise, Yarra Ranges Council, Victorian State Government, Powershop, our local tradespeople, the builders of the system River Power Tasmania and many local community members. The hydro system provides the town with a consistent renewable energy option and a return of sustainable profits to the community,” said Yarra Ranges Cr Jim Child.

“The Community Hydro Scheme is incredibly important to our town as it provides the community with valued self-reliance and the ability for it to generate its own income and help determine its future. The project shows what can happen when community, business and government combine for the greater good. We’re proud that this initiative can act as a blueprint for other community led mini hydro schemes,” said Geoff Vickers, Executive Officer of UYCE.

The new plant will be officially opened at 1pm, Monday 29 October by Jaclyn Symes, State Member for Northern Victoria, and with representatives from The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Yarra Ranges Council, energy retailer Powershop, Bendigo Bank, River Power Tasmania and Community Bank® and Warburton and Yarra Junction Community Bank® Branches.

1 Based on an SUV weighing 1.577 tonnes.

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