On the surface, Balcombe and Lismore aren’t that alike. Lismore has a population of 27,000, Balcombe of 1700. In Lismore temperatures in the summer average a scorching 30 degrees, in Balcombe it’s a mere 20. Lismore has produced three national rugby players and an Australian cricket captain, Balcombe has an over-performing voluntary cricket team.
But, lately their experiences have strangely mirrored.
Back in 2013 in Balcombe, oil and gas extraction company Cuadrilla came to town. Cue protesters, riot police and massive upheaval for the sleepy village.
Hop over to Lismore and it’s the same story. When a Metgasco coal seam gas drilling well was proposed, protestors came from far and wide. They set up a camp to blockade the drilling site. Just days before a showdown between police and protesters, the company’s licence to drill was revoked.
But in both towns, the upheaval had left its mark. Neither wanted fracking wells in their backyards, but they weren’t NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) either.
So, they both opted for the same solution: 100% renewable electricity.
In Balcombe, local volunteers got together to form energy co-op Repower Balcombe. Their aim is ambitious - repower the entire village with 100%, community owned solar power.
And over in Lismore, 18 months of public consultation led to the city council announcing a 100% renewable electricity target by 2023. As well as large scale development, community ownership is at the heart of the plan, with their Farming the Sun initiative set to build two community owned 100kW solar farms.
Why bother? Lismore residents were keen to become ‘models for sustainability’ in Australia.
And in a country where climate change is such a divisive issue, positive action is surely the only way forward.
And what about Balcombe? In the words of Joe Nixon from Balcombe: ‘we got together, had a cup of tea and decided to do it for our children'.
All over the world communities are getting together to take control of their energy futures. Particularly as governments are keen to get the last drops of fossil fuels out of the barrel, communities are showing that there is a better way, and then they’re just getting on and building it.