Victoria could soon become home to Australia’s first ever “solar town,” with the state Labor party giving its backing to an ambitious plan for the conversion of Newstead on the Loddon River to 100 per cent usage of renewable energy.
The Renewable Newstead program envisages the transformation of the Loddon River town of Newstead into a community whose stationary power needs are fully met by renewable energy sources by 2017, via the widespread deployment of solar PV and associated storage systems.
The town should serve as a convenient and manageable testing ground for conversion to full usage of renewable energy, given its modest population size of around 500 people according to the last census results.
Despite its small population, Newstead is a thriving rural community which is host to numerous festivals and folk events. The town is situated in the centre of the "golden triangle," in close proximity to a number of leading tourist destinations in the state, as well as within reasonable distance of both Melbourne and Bendigo.
The Renewable Newstead program is being developed in partnership with Central Victoria Solar City (CVSC), a part of the Australian Government's Solar Cities program, and Newstead 2012.
CVSC has already provided $110,000 for the employment of community engagement officer Ross Egleton to raise public awareness on renewable energy in Newstead, conducting free home energy assessments and community workshops.
Egleton is assessing the energy needs of both businesses and homes in Newstead.
Renewable Newstead has also enlisted the help of top-flight experts, engaging in a cooperative relationship with Anthony Szatow, Program Leader - Intelligent Grid, Local Energy Solutions Science Into Society Group of the CSIRO. Szatow will be working with Renewable Newstead to explore aspects of community energy planning.
The program is also set to receive a major funding boost with a commitment from Victorian Labor to provide extensive funding toward the project.
Shadow minister for energy and resources Lily D'Ambrosio and Labor member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards have announced that labor would provide Newstead 2021 with $200,000 for the drafting of a master plan.
"Having been ignored for four years, Labor will work with the community in Newstead to help them achieve their goal of moving to renewable energy by 2017," said D'Ambrosio. "Newstead will be a leading example of what can be achieved when locals and government work together."