Our Story Thus far
In 2005, a group of citizens of the community, responding to a call to action from Neil and Heather Barrett, got together and declared a commitment to make an effort to combat climate change. Not seeing leadership coming from government, they felt that the lead had to be set by grassroots movements from within the community. The concept of Mt Alexander Sustainability Group (MASG) was born.
A community meeting was held, funds were raised, and in 2006, MASG became a not for profit group, dedicated to action on climate change and sustainable living. MASG was to be a group where practical action would be taken and not just an advocacy group. MASG became a registered Environmental Organisation and obtained DGR (charity) status. This allowed our donors to claim their donations as a tax deduction. It was to be a member based organization and the recruiting of members followed.
2006 through 2011:
This period was one of intense activity for MASG, with a number of events and programs enabled by a small but dedicated staff, an army of volunteers and the Committee of Management.
In 2006, MASG hosted a Carbon Neutral Festival and hosted a showing of the Inconvenient Truth, the circuit breaking Al Gore movie. A significant amount of seed funding was raised from generous local donors to enable MASG to get programs off the ground. In 2007 MASG held its first AGM.
Projects during this period included:
- Maines Power Project
- Wash Against Waste Trailer designed and created in Castlemaine in 2009. It is proudly one of only two such trailers in the whole of Australia, the second modelled from the original created in Castlemaine. The mobile trailer is a self-contained unit designed to be used at community and public events. It is stocked with high quality melamine crockery, tumblers and stainless steel crockery as an alternative to throw away plastic and paper plates and cups.
- The MASG Demonstration Garden was developed – later becoming the Hub Plot.
- Community Wind Project Introduction: The first community meeting on wind was held at the Midland Hotel in early 2006 and attended by Future Energy, Hepburn Wind’s Per Bernard and 30 or so interested locals. This project remained high on MASG’s agenda through the 2006-09 period and involved lots of hard work by staff and committee.
- Solar PV Bulk Buy (2008-2010): The first Solar PV Bulk Buy (2008/2009) was undertaken. At a time when solar panels were still very expensive, this proved very successful, with some 52 installations.
- The second in 2009/2010 Solar PV Bulk Buy saw 192 installations. MASG retained the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and this became a source of on-going funds. This was considered justified as the money was destined to be used on further renewable energy projects.
- Energy efficiency programs were undertaken and these included running Trades Workshops and developing the Comfy Homes register.
- Green Power Marketing: A program to increase the uptake of GreenPower by linking the purchase of domestic and small business GreenPower to the installation of Solar PV on 5 nominated community buildings. This was supported by the Sustainability Fund of the Victorian Government
- The Carbon Reduction Action Group (CRAG) program supported a personal carbon emission reduction scheme to help minimize energy use among MASG members who pledged to live low carbon lives. This was an international program initiated in the UK, with Australia forming similar groups at local government and community level. This was supported by the Sustainability Fund of the Victorian Government.
- Demonstration House: This was another a project involving a lot of volunteers, goodwill from the community and generosity of partners – including Trevor Butcher Builders and Lifehouse Design. The home was built at a modest price and rated as highly energy efficient. It was displayed for 1 year after which it was returned to the builder for sale. This was supported by the Sustainability Fund of the Victorian Government.
- The Low CO2 Project was a pilot to explore the potential for establishing a small scale carbon market within the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) sector, in the regional Victorian town of Castlemaine. This project was funded by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts under the Australian Government’s Low Emission Technology Abatement-Strategic Abatement program. The pilot ran for 12 months over the 07/08 financial year. The aim of the Low CO2 pilot, was to leverage funds from local energy efficiency, to drive further investment in assessments and abatement
- Two successful Trade Fairs were organised in 2009 and 2010, where trades and suppliers offering energy efficiency products were on show. The initial fair was held in the Uniting Church hall and the second was run in partnership with the Football and Netball clubs. They were very popular events showcasing Solar PV, Solar Hot water, building products, micro wind turbines and more..
- The Challenge to Change (C2C) program was a program to target carbon neutrality by 2010. It was aimed at schools, businesses, council and households through various advocacy activities. Initially it focused on Castlemaine Schools and it was aimed at teaching them to measure their energy use and to teach them how to reduce it. It was a program initially designed for Sustainability Victoria by Terry White in association with Alan Pears.
- A Tarrengower subgroup of MASG was established by the efforts of the late Wendy French. Their programs included changing light globes throughout MALDON, getting some businesses to commit to carbon neutral programs. They also oversaw the running of Maldon Folk Festival as carbon neutral.
- One off Events included:
- Festival of the Wheel organized by Neil Barrett and Volunteers with support from KR Castlemaine. Held in the Botanic Gardens it was a roaring success.
- Bicycle Map of Town was produced for the Castlemaine State Festival for use by visitors.
- U3A Solar Cooker Project – this was a demonstration workshop run by Grace McCaughay.
- Sustainability Heroes (Pioneers): A series of photo and text banners with local people who have incorporated sustainability into their lives at home and work.
- Energy Expo – This was an Expo inside and outside at the Campbells Creek Community Centre which had more than 1000 visitors over 2 days. Regional Energy and Sustainability focused businesses had stands and demonstration sites. There were also daytime workshops over a weekend and a packed talk by Professor Mark Diesendorf.
- Growing the Harvest – a day long festival at Uniting Church which involved demonstrations around local food and a series of workshops led by food producers. It was organized by the Hub Plot working group and was very well attended.
- Carbon Neutral Events: Included The National Poetry Festival held in Castlemaine, Didgeridoo Festival and Peace Festival, and the Castlemaine Community House Ball.
- Sustainable Garden Open Days were organized by the Hub Plot working group and were tours of produce gardens around the shire.
The 2010 MASG Future Focus Review was undertaken and completed in October 2010. MASG members and other key community members were invited to participate in the review in a number of ways – individual interviews, an on-line survey, and two group workshops. For read more click the link here: MASG 2010 Future Focus Review Summary
Feature Projects 2010 – 2014:
This was one of 10 national projects selected under the umbrella of the CSIRO Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI). This CSIRO program aimed to broker projects in which people work together to develop and deliver solutions to local sustainability challenges and opportunities. The SCI pioneered collaborative approaches to address sustainability challenges such as water security, greenhouse pollution and energy security. It did this by working in partnership with communities, business, and government and non-government organisations. The Maine’s Power project worked with large energy users in the Mount Alexander Shire to contribute towards a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 from 2006 levels. As a second phase, it also aimed to work towards zero net emissions by 2020 while increasing the security of energy supply in the Shire. It was one of 12 projects referred to directly in Ross Garnaut’s report to government.
The project partners spanned government, private industry and non-governmental organisations, all of whom were fundamental to achieving the project aims.
The project was undertaken with a team from MASG doing much of the ground work supplemented by the Victorian EPA and Powercor, and with the CSIRO providing the scientific leadership and data analysis. The project phase 1 was completed and the report delivered at a launch held at the Castlemaine Hospital in November 2009. As a result of this project, big savings were made in the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions of the major industries. Structural changes to most of the businesses made these savings difficult to measure. The hospital achieved its energy efficiency goals as did George Western Foods Castlemaine facility. GWF (initially KR Castlemaine and now Don’s Smallgoods) was able to leverage the project to obtain 2 co-generation plants with significant government support, and also to modify many of its internal practices to obtain improved energy efficiency. Victoria Carpets closed the Castlemaine operation and Flowserve moved from being an energy intensive foundry and industrial pump testing facility to maintain only the latter.
Continuing the ground work as referenced in 2006-2011, a major focus of MASG was to establish a community owned and operated wind farm in the Shire. Inspired by Hepburn Wind, this was a project that attracted enthusiastic support and funding. A sub-committee formed, and through due diligence on our behalf a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with a developer, Future Energy, who had secured two leases in the Sutton Grange area. Community Engagement commenced and some seed funding was provided by Embark. MASG committed to the employment of a Project Officer. This had not gone far before the newly elected Coalition Government declared half of the shire a No Go zone and these leases were then not operable and were allowed, along with the MOU, to expire.
Through 2012 to 2014, under the name MACWind, we undertook a comprehensive community engagement process through the shire and established shire wide support for wind. We then embarked on a process of locating interested landowners and doing initial desktop analysis. A shortlist was chosen, and a community engagement process was undertaken in two promising sites, located some 14km from the Baringhup township. We were unable to achieve a sufficient level of community support to proceed. The sites may have proved viable in better times but became at best marginal given the unhelpful regulatory environment and the low wholesale electricity prices. It was a difficult to decision not to proceed. Stronger and more viable sites have been identified that could be revisited as the regulatory and financial environment change.
The Goldfields SolarHub (GSH) project
This was a joint initiative of the Bendigo Sustainability Group and the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group. Its purpose was to promote the installation of solar energy within the Bendigo and Mount Alexander regions. It was supported under Sustainability Victoria’s Solar Hub program which was also rolled in other regional areas at the same time. Funding was provided for one full-time (Bendigo based) and some part-time staff to administer the project.
GSH commenced in March 2011. There were three elements to the initiative:
- Set up a competitive tender process to select a supplier or suppliers to provide and install 1.5 kW to 5 kW systems to households, businesses and community groups
- Develop an engagement strategy
- Explore opportunities for community groups and low income housing groups
The GSH program was rolled out over three rounds between March 2011 and September 2012. There were 637 installations resulting in a total of 1.7 MW of solar power installed in the Bendigo and Mount Alexander areas and surrounds, at an average system size of 2.65 kW.
Initially in partnership with the the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) but in the following years, as an independent MASG project.
The Peoples Solar, a partnership through a Memorandum of Understanding with Energy for the People, was formed to develop a program of donor and investor funder solar PV installs on commercial and community facilities. This saw installation on the Castlemaine Child Care Centre, Taradale Primary School and Chewton Primary School. Energy for the people aimed to roll this program out across the country with a national partner. This was not aligned with MASG’s local focus, and it was decided that the project become independent of MASG.
To read more go to the Previous Projects page on the website here.
Thankyou to Neil and Heather Barrett, Felicity Faris and all current and previous COM, staff, members and volunteers that have contributed to the MASG Legacy and assisted in this history mapping exercise.
It is hoped the MASG experience is helpful to those planning to establish similar organisations in the future.
If you have something to contribute, or you would like to find out more about any of MASG’s previous projects contact us.