Powering the communities of the future
6 May 2019 at 8:44 am
Cambell Klose, from the community energy retailer Indigo Power, is driving the people-led clean energy revolution, transforming the energy sector into a cleaner, fairer industry. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
Working across politics, advocacy, and the sustainability sector, Klose has had a varied career. But if you look closely, the overarching theme in all of his roles has been the importance of empowering the voices of communities for good.
Klose grew up in the small town of Yackandandah, and while he moved away, as many rural kids do, he recently moved back to play a part in the community’s emergence as a leader in the clean community power movement that’s taking off in northeast Victoria.
The role of the energy sector in achieving climate targets appeared again and again in his work, and so he made the move back to the small town to play his part.
The goal is to power the small town with 100 per cent renewable energy, achieving energy sovereignty by 2022. With Indigo Power allowing locals to share and trade solar energy with one another, Klose believes the town can make the ambitious target and show the rest of Australia what the future of the clean, community-controlled energy sector looks like.
In this week’s Changemaker, Klose discusses the risks of following a passion, the power of communities, and why it’s important as a leader to listen.
You started off working in politics, how did that shape where you wanted to go later on in your career?
I volunteered on the Cathy McGowan campaign when she was running as an independent in Indi. I quit my job in Melbourne and thought that I’d be unemployed after the campaign, but then Cathy actually won. What I learned in that campaign was the incredible power that communities can have, particularly regional communities, but communities everywhere, to shape their own futures. It gives you a lot of hope and a lot of knowledge that things can be changed. I’ve been really lucky in that sense and have really taken that on board, with all the other jobs that I’ve done and all the other work I’ve been involved in.
Where did you go from there?
I worked for a few advocacy organisations, and the one I enjoyed the most during that time was 350.org, a global climate movement that works with local impacted communities all over the world. I really enjoyed working on the council divestment campaign, which was working with groups right across the country to get their local councils to divest their money from fossil fuels. That was a really successful campaign and one that strangely took fire across regional Australia as well. Because I’m from regional Australia, I have a particular connection to it, and that was another thing I really enjoyed doing.
During that time, I started thinking about de-carbonisation and meeting our climate goals and the energy sector just kept coming up as one of those key areas. I got really interested in energy, and I was really lucky the town I grew up in, Yackandandah, had a group called Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY), which is one of the most successful community energy groups in the country. I actually fundraised myself a position to move back to Yackandandah and started working on community energy projects up in the region, with a particular focus on what a community-owned energy retailer looks like.
What does that look like?
So what we’ve done is set up a community energy network, and we have 12 members across northeast Victoria, which is the highest density of community energy groups anywhere in Australia. Our goal with Indigo Power, which we launched three weeks ago, is that people with solar panels will be able to share and trade their energy with other people, whether or not they have solar energy. It’s a really exciting proposition where rather than energy coming one way from a generator in the Latrobe Valley, you become an active user because you’ve got control over the energy you’re consuming. You can share it and track your usage. It also gives communities control as well, especially when we’re looking at locally-owned renewable energy generation and storage.
TRY are hoping Yackandandah becomes completely self-sustaining by 2022, will that happen?
We are on track for that to happen. It’s a fairly big ask, but the retailer is key to success because for us to allow customers to trade electricity, you need to have a retail license, which is why we set up the retailer. By the end of the year, all the publicly-owned buildings, such as the town hall and the fire station, will have solar panels on their roofs. Fifty-five per cent of households have solar, and we’re currently looking at what some local generation and storage could look like.
Between all your jobs, were you ever worried it wouldn’t work out?
It is always scary when you’re going to take the next jump. I remember when I was deciding whether or not I would move up to work on Cathy’s campaign, and I spoke with my dad, and said, “I’ve got a stable job but I’m really passionate about this campaign, and I want to do it, but it’s the riskier option.” I was 24 at the time, and Dad just said that I was young, and I was only going to regret not doing it. I am older now, but it was the same thing with Indigo Power.
The problems we face as a planet and society are so huge and I think it takes people to be able to think about what it is going to take and what we need to do. I’m privileged enough that my parents are middle class, so if something goes wrong, I have them to fall back on. I acknowledge that privilege though, I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to do things I’m passionate about and at the same time, these things that I’ve been passionate about are having a huge impact and a positive impact on communities.
What would you say some of your biggest achievements have been?
The council divestment through 350.org was really powerful and the campaign was one of the first campaigns that really started the stigmatisation of coal. It was important because once it was stigmatised, we could start moving towards different forms of energy.
By far the most difficult and challenging but rewarding achievement was getting Indigo Power up off the ground, because it’s entirely new for me. We’ve been working with community on the one hand, we’ve got partnerships with Mondo, which is a subsidiary of AusNet services, and us as Indigo Power, and pulling together and working in coalition with all these different interests has been fascinating, challenging and key if we want to have any impact.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to carve out a career in the sector?
I think it’s finding what it is you’re really passionate about, and making it work within that space. It’s challenging, and obviously the pay isn’t as good. Work can be more flexible, but it’s also less secure than if you’re in the public or private space. It’s really just making those things happen.
Does it give you hope, working in the space and seeing these changes happen that things can get better?
I’ve got a lot of friends that are activists, particularly global activists, who are so frustrated all the time. The scale of change they are pushing for is so great, and it can sometimes be really dispiriting. Working on the ground in communities where you can actually see the tangible results from the work you are doing really helps you to stay grounded, and really helps to keep you sane when you are tackling something as large and foreboding as climate change.
How has this changed you?
All of my jobs have changed me. Working in politics gave me an appreciation for compromise and the incentives that drive people. Working at 350.org gave me a real appreciation of the incredible work that a diverse range of communities are doing and how we need to listen to different voices when finding solutions. I’ve really taken that into this job as well, prioritising community voices and listening. [It’s really important to] listen to what communities need, rather than telling them what they need, and acting on what it is they are asking or calling for.