Community Energy

Aotearoa Community Energy Forum 2020

Grassroots participation in New Zealand’s energy transition

Against the backdrop of Rodd Carr’s call to bring climate change to the public, and Jacinda Arden’s Climate Emergency Declaration, independent power producers, community energy innovators, lines companies, government, industry authorities and academia met in Auckland on 26 November to discuss the prospects for local and community energy and its role in driving New Zealand’s energy transition.

An inspiring series of talks from community energy researchers and practitioners in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and Canada set out what drives, shapes and impedes community energy overseas as well as in New Zealand. Among the kiwi community energy practitioners and umbrella groups there to present their work were Scott Willis from Blueskin Energy, Sumaria Beaton from Awarua Synergy, Leigh Ramsay from Energise Otaki, John Campbell from OurEnergy, Dallas Butler from Xtreme Zero Waste, Gareth Cartwright, who leads the Community Energy Network, , and Keith Scoles from PowerIt Fwd. 

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, an internationally renowned scholar on community energy based in Exeter, explained that community energy is about grassroots bottom-up initiatives in the energy transition space, where communities actively become part of the process of change and derive multiple social and economic benefits from that, using guaranteed income streams from energy projects to invest in a wide range of local infrastructure, educational, social enterprise projects with public benefit.

To some extent, he said, community energy projects arose as an antithesis to large projects led by multinational companies or consortia that sometimes cut corners when it comes to public participation. Dr. Julie MacArthur from the University of Auckland used the idea of ‘energy democracy’ to discuss how these forms of active engagement can be used as a means of redistribution to meet Treaty obligations, address energy poverty, and avoid magnifying existing social cleavages as New Zealand pursues its energy transition. 

Patrick Devine-Wright explained he has historically observed two types of community energy projects in England. The first type focuses primarily on developing renewable energy technologies, and are often led by networks of left-leaning individuals aged 50 years and up with disposable income. The second type of community energy project he sees focuses more on addressing real socio-economic issues, including fuel poverty and energy conservation issues, and often involves a broader cross- section of society, including local businesses.

These projects are often facilitated or enabled by local authorities. He now sees a third hybrid project type emerging that combines these elements, moving into smart energy, energy trading, flexibility services and storage. 

Zooming in from Newcastle, the Forum heard from Dr. Jarra Hicks who runs a consultancy organisation providing expert advice and support on policy and projects that help create a clean energy future that benefits and involves all Australians (Community Power Agency).

Jarra presented existing models for community energy in Australia, ranging from bulk purchase of solar or EV technology, community owned energy retailers that purchase from community energy projects, community investment in wind export or behind the meter generation, and shared ownership projects involving commercial-community partnerships.

Chris Henderson from Indigenous Clean Energy Canada gave an overview of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit renewable energy projects in Canada, which includes 197 medium to large projects and 19 major transmission projects.

Forum participants were awestruck both by the size and extent of indigenous participation in clean energy in Canada, as well as the extent of collective mobilisation and organisation of the Indigenous Clean Energy sector.

Drawing on the New Zealand Aotearoa Community Energy Dataset, Julie MacArthur showed that there is more local and community activity in New Zealand than most people think, but it was also clear that new projects and organisations in this space face a variety of barriers, and active engagement within the community is sometimes limited.

Treaty settlements have been an important catalyst, but more work and support is needed. Chris Henderson from Indigenous Clean Energy Canada invited Māori clean energy practitioners to join a global network called the ‘Three Island Energy Initiative’ to exchange best practices and have a collective voice.  

Many of the speakers touched on the important role of government and policy to set the right conditions for local and community energy.

Anna Berka from Massey University explained these range from legal frameworks for community ownership, to regulation enabling market access, and support frameworks enabling novel projects to become financially viable, to regional facilitation, handholding and capacity building. Jarra Hicks pointed to national networking and knowledge exchange, Federal generation certificates for renewable energy projects under 100kW, state level grants and handholding hubs in Victoria, as well as an emerging market for private power purchase agreements as driving community energy in Australia.

The Forum heard from Dr Helen Haines, a prominent Australian MP with a visionary and practical plan for Local Power, co-designed by community practitioners and experts, and primarily aimed at driving regional economic opportunity. The Local Power Plan is a package of community energy support policies, including a new Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA), 50 local power hubs in regional centres across the country with 310 million dollars to seed fund local energy projects over 10 years, a public underwriting scheme to bring the mid-scale community energy sector to scale, and a compulsory 20% local share offer for commercial projects.

Afsheen Rashid, CEO of Repowering London and Chair of Community Energy England pointed to project scale, access to seed capital, multi stakeholder collaborations and ability to tap into a range of new areas of development, including heat and transport, as being key to success in the UK’s post-subsidy world. Echoing comments by Afsheen and Bill Heaps, Independent Director at CEN, Jarra Hicks explained that models for community energy have not diffused and scaled widely across the country because of a highly changeable and uncertain policy and regulatory environment, with organisations constantly innovating and weaving their way through a changing regulatory landscape, finding the path of least resistance. 

Helen explained that the Local Power Plan does not start from the point of emissions reductions, it starts from the point of the communities that will host renewables and asks what those people want from their region, in other words, it “fits the local renewable transition into communities, rather than fitting the communities into a renewable transition”. 

In the final part of the day, attention turned to policy and regulatory challenges and barriers in New Zealand, with tough questions for representatives from the Ministry of Business and Innovation and Enterprise and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

Nina Campbell from EECA, and Daniel Brown from MBIE provided details about some exciting new opportunities coming out of a number of workstreams within Government; including the new renewable energy fund (announced officially on Tuesday 15 December).

John Campbell from Our Energy, Keith Scoles from Powerit Fwd, Vector’s Robyn Holdaway and Alan Jenkins from Energy Trusts New Zealand spoke on barriers and opportunities facing decentralised energy initiatives in New Zealand.


The Importance of Self-sufficiency Marae & Community. Sumaria Beaton.


COMMUNITY ENERGY the Blueskin Experience. Scott Willis, Blueskin Energy Ltd


INDIGENOUS CLEAN ENERGY Indigenous communities participation in Canada’s clean energy future… and present. Chris Henderson, Lumos Energy


Enabling policy contexts for local and community energy Evidence from an international comparative review. Anna L. Berka


Energise Otaki Solar Farm. CEN


The CE Change. Keith Scoles




Among the recommendations tabled were better co-ordination across actors in the distributed energy space, a need for more pro-active government leadership and a co-ordinated effort by government,  industry and community leaders to test a variety of local and community energy models that are best suited to address priority issues and opportunities in the energy sector, which can then inform the necessary regulatory and policy change.

This event was notable in part because there was a real consensus that it may be time for renewed energy policy development and a national strategy that sets out the opportunity for a wider array of stakeholders to participate in New Zealand’s energy transition. 

This event was funded through the Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Fund, and organised in collaboration with the The Energy Centre at the University of Auckland and the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland. 

By: Anna Berka (Massey University), Gareth Cartwright (Community Energy Network), and Julie MacArthur (University of Auckland). 



Anna Berka (PhD) is a Lecturer in climate change, sustainability and policy at Massey Business School. She holds degrees in environmental science, policy and economics and has a consulting background in social entrepreneurship and impact evaluation in the UK energy sector. She works on effective climate change governance in relation to risk, inclusivity (social justice) and innovation, using country comparative studies to draw best lessons for policy and practice. She has published on impact assessment, research methods, grassroots innovation, energy transitions, and low carbon innovation policy.

Daniel Brown is a Principal Advisor at the Ministry of Business Innovation, and Employment –working primarily on renewable energy and Resource Management Act projects. He has degrees in Law and Geography and a Masters in Regional and Resource Planning from the University of Otago.

John Campbell leads Our Energy, the creator and designer of an online platform for people and communities producing their own electricity. Their software and service matches small-scale generators of clean energy with customers in their local communities in real time, providing an easy way to buy, sell and gift clean, local energy. Our Energy stands for a better, fairer, cleaner and more local energy future and his team are passionate about creating a world where community-driven energy is affordable, reliable and sustainable for all.

Nina Campbell is a Senior Advisor on Policy and Engagement at EECA. As a behavioural scientist, Nina takes the lead on all things human-centered at EECA, including energy user behaviour, community energy and energy hardship projects. She also has a focus on evaluation, promoting an evidence-based approach to continuous improvement of EECA’s programmes. Prior to working at EECA, Nina spent 10 years in energy sector in Europe, primarily as an Analyst in the Energy Efficiency and Climate Change Unit at the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright is an environmental social scientist who draws from disciplines such as Human Geography and Environmental Psychology, at the University of Exeter. He is the editor of ‘Public Engagement with Renewable Energy: From NIMBY to Participation’. Prof Devine-Wright specialises in researching significant, policy-relevant environmental problems using an interdisciplinary collaborative approach that is theoretically informed and has clear pathways to impact. He is a Lead Author for the IPCC Working Group III in the 6th Assessment Round contributing to a chapter on ‘Demand, Services and Social Aspects of Mitigation’, he is Chair of the Devon Net Zero Task Force.

Dr. Helen Haines is an MP and Independent Federal Member for Indi, Victoria. In her earlier professional career she was a nurse, midwife, health administrator and rural health researcher in Victoria’s North East for more than 32 years. She lives on a small beef farm in Wangaratta (Victoria), and is a strong advocate for a federal anti-corruption commission, strong climate action, rural infrastructure and health services within the Australian parliament. In September 2020, she published the Local Power Plan as a national policy framework to support community energy in regional Australia.

Bill Heaps is an independent director of the Consumer Energy Network (CEN) and Managing Director of Wellington based Strata Energy Consulting. Bill is an electrical engineer, business executive and company director with broad experience in major infrastructure and energy supply businesses.Bill has held senior executive and governance positions in the generation, transmission, distribution and retail businesses.

Chris Henderson is Canada’s pre-eminent Clean Energy Advisor to Indigenous communities. He advises Chiefs and Councils, Tribal Groups and Indigenous Economic Development Corporations on how to effectively secure and leverage partnership positions in clean energy projectsacross Canada. Chris also guides utilities, financial firms, corporations and governments on engaging and partnering with Indigenous communities. Chris has catalyzed clean energy projects in every Canadian province and territory. His book, Aboriginal Power, was published in 2013. Chris is Program Director and Lead Mentor with the Indigenous Clean Energy: 20/20 Catalysts Program, a major Lumos initiative strengthening First Nations, Metis and Inuit clean energy Community Readiness, Community Capacity and Leadership Skills.

Dr Jarra Hicks is the co-founder of the Community Power Agency, a not-for-profit worker’s cooperative that supports communities to participate in the renewable energy transition. She is motivated by the power that people are engaging everyday to make real contributions to the sustainability of their communities. She has co-founded and worked for a range of community organisations and social enterprises, from food to energy, advocacy to banking. Jarra’s academic work focuses on the potential for community energy projects to contribute positive social, economic and environmental outcomes for regional communities. It examines development processes, social enterprise models and diverse economic arrangements that community energy projects engage.

Robyn Holdaway is Group Manager of Public Policy and Vector, New Zealand’s largest electricity network and an energy solutions provider. Her role is to engage with Government and industry stakeholders to support the development of public policies which drive decarbonisation, resilience and energy affordability –and which enable Vector’s vision to Create a New Energy Future. This requires significant transformation through our energy systems –to unlock new value at the demand-side of energy supply chains and to design systems around customers through digital, decentralised and data analytics solutions. Robyn has a background in economic and social policy and service delivery strategy in Government and the private sector. She studied International Relations, Political Science and Philosophy with Hons (1st) in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington.

Dr Julie MacArthur is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and the Master of Public Policy program at the University of Auckland where she teaches environmental politics and public policy. She is the author of Empowering Electricity: Co-operatives, Sustainability and Power Sector Reform in Canada (UBC Press, 2016), as well as articles and book chapters on sustainable community development, participatory environmental governance, and comparative energy policy. Dr MacArthur has won SSHRC and RSNZ Marsden Fund grants for her research on the contribution of community energy initiatives to climate change mitigation and local development. In 2016 she was a visiting researcher at the University College of Cork Cleaner Production Promotion Unit and at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development. Julie is also a researcher with the University ofAuckland Energy Centre and the Vice-Chair of WISER (Women and Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research) Network.

Keith Scoles has over 40 years of experience in the energy sector in New Zealand and abroad –leading the engineering and capability building of community based solar projects in Afghanistan, Indonesia and throughout the Pacific has given him a passion for the benefits of Community Energy and seeing outcomes relating to energy poverty being progressed in NZ. Keith started as an engineeringtechnician in the industry before moving to project and engineering management fields in the 1990 and has lead direct reports, consultants and clients in the delivery of a variety of technology based projects in the industry. More recently Keith was a founding staff member and Engineering Manager of Infratec a successful NZ renewable energy contractor before founding his own company PowerIt Fwd.

Afsheen Rashid is Co-founder and CEO of Repowering London and Chair of the Brixton Energy Solar Co-operatives the UK’s first inner-city community-owned solar power stations. Afsheen is also Chair of Community Energy England and remains influential in both local and national community energy decision making. Prior to Repowering’s foundation, Afsheen pioneered Lambeth Council’s Community Energy Programme and she was also previously a Senior Policy Advisor at DECC. She was instrumental in setting up the Muslim Women’s Collective in Tower Hamlets that seeks to empower women to play an active role in improving the environment. Afsheen has a MA in Geography and MEnv in Environment, Science and Society. Afsheen was awarded an MBE in the 2016 New Year’s Honours List for her work in renewable energy in deprived London communities.

Alan Jenkins is the Executive Officer of Energy Trusts of New Zealand, that represents Trust owners of electricity distribution businesses through New Zealand.

Scott Willis is General Manager of Blueskin Energy Ltd, a charitable company wholly owned by the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust. Over the past 12 years Scott has worked in the community sector to create climate solutions through energy literacy, energy efficiency and innovation in community energy with a special interest in the democratization of our electricity sector. He is Chairperson of the Energy Committee at the Otago Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of the Cosy Homes Trust in Dunedin and is a regular contributor to the Otago Daily Times on climate and energy issues. Scott is also a member of the Innovation and Participation Advisory Group at the Electricity Authority.

Gareth Cartwright is the Executive Officer for the Community Energy Network. The focus of CEN and its members for the last 20 years has been reducing energy hardship through provision of insulation, heating and education services. In the last 2 years, the focus has expanded and Gareth is now working with Keith Scoles and others in the sector to improve the engagement and ability of community organisations to develop community scale renewable energy systems. Gareth is the co-Chair ofthe Xtreme Zero Waste Trust Board based in Whaingaroa Raglan, which is looking to develop a community scale solar farm. Over the last 3 years, Gareth has also been in the Social Enterprise Sector Development Working Group, led by the Akina Foundation.

Leigh is New Zealand’s foremost expert on Emulsified Fuel and producing “fit for purpose” liquid fuels from local feed stocks . He also has expertise in recovering energy from end of life products via Blended Fuels Solution NZ and Nufuels of which he is MD. He is also Chair of Energise Otaki which is a charitable trust and aims to reduce energy poverty and improve energy efficiency within the town. Energise Otaki has just opened New Zealand’s first community owned solar farm where the proceeds of the “behind the meter” system go back to the community for energy projects

Sumaria Beaton has worked in the Community Energy & Housing sector for the past 15 years leading Awarua Synergy, a hapu/marae-owned enterprise based in Southland. Awarua Synergy, which now employs 28 people, was born out of Bluff with a vision of warming and eco-powering the Deep South. Its core business is installing insulation and energy efficient heating, including solar, into homes, farms, community buildings and commercial sites throughout Southland and parts of Central Otago. Education has been a vital component, including home visits and coaching families in energy efficiency. Sumaria delivers workshops to community groups, and recently co-facilitated with He Iwi Kotahi Trust, supported by Community Energy Network, a kaupapa Maori-driven programme to 80 Whanau Ora navigators, partnering with Te Putahitanga. Awarua Synergy has partnered with Te Puni Kokiri to deliver emergency housing repair workshops, and has worked on Papa Kainga feasibility, this funding has been secured with the outcome delivery of six kaumatua flats based at Te Rau Aroha Marae, in Bluff. Awarua Synergy has recently completed a strategic plan for the next five years, with an eye to further diversifying its services.

Dallas Rangi Butler is of Te Whanau-ā-Apanui descent and a professional executive. He is a champion for an inclusive leadership culture -believing the best results are achieved through bringing everyone on the journey.Dallas has been General Manager and Managing Director of Xtreme Zero Waste, based out at Whaingaroa Raglan. One of the core missions for this role has been melding community enterprise values with solid commercial considerations. Xtreme Zero Waste has recently become a CEN member and with Dallas leading the charge, is looking to broaden their impact working alongside the community.

Share the Post:

Related Posts