‘Impact investment’ finances Indigenous solar project

The solar system on the roof of the Kurrawang community's workshop.

May 26, 2016

In what is believed to be an Australian first, a 139-panel solar system has been installed at an Indigenous community in WA with the help of an ‘impact investment’ loan.

The 36-kilowatt system at the Kurrawang Aboriginal Christian Community near Kalgoorlie, mounted on the roof of a workshop and machinery shed, is expected to displace 20% of the community’s electricity use.

It is also expected to offset about 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, equivalent to removing about 17 cars from the roads.

The solar system was a joint project of the not-for-profit organisation Renew and the Kurrawang board, with $52,500 in finance loaned by the McKinnon Family Foundation and CAGES Foundation.

Impact investment is capital used for projects to generate social or environmental outcomes as well financial returns.

Donna Luckman, the Renew’s chief executive, said the solar system was a great achievement for the 120 people of Kurrawang and a win for the environment.
“Since all the buildings in the community are metered as a single entity, every household will benefit,” Ms Luckman said.

“It means the community will save on their electricity bills and the environment benefits as well through reduced emissions. This really shows how you can be innovative with community renewable energy and impact investment.

“We hope this can serve as a model for other communities.”

Kurrawang board member Rowena Leslie said the Community feels empowered by this move towards self-sufficiency.

“We would like to thank the Lord our God for the lessons learned during development stage and the added benefits to the environment, our budget and the Community spirit in the after effect,” Mrs Leslie said.

John McKinnon, director of the McKinnon Family Foundation, said he hoped in future there would be community solar systems throughout outback Australia.

“This project is a fine example of what impact investment can achieve in supporting both community needs and renewable energy.”

Kylie Charlton, chief investment officer of Australian Impact Investments, who advised CAGES Foundation on their participation in the loan, said they were excited at the potential for replication with other remote communities and the long-term potential to establish a fund of diverse community solar assets.

“We hope that this project is the first of many community solar projects in which investors can participate.”

The Kurrawang solar system and its bill savings were modelled using Renew’s Sunulator solar calculator.

The community will pay off the simple loan in five years, with bill savings exceeding monthly loan repayments.