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Energy for the People

Energy for the People is an innovative and independent clean energy service company. Since being founded in 2011, it has been shaking up the energy market as it pushes to democratise, as it were, power. We chat to Alex Houlston, co-founder of Energy For The People to learn  more about how they’re doing this.

Why is EFTP a force for good?
Our mission is to leverage the energy market transition from centralised fossil fuels to distributed clean energy, so that communities benefit. Our social purpose is addressing youth homelessness through employment. Overall we are a force for good because we are helping the environment and disadvantaged young people.

What are some projects EFTP has been involved with that epitomizes this?
The St Kilda Community Housing (SCH) project was one of the first we developed, about four years ago. The idea was born when we approached the CEO, who saw an opportunity for reducing their high electricity bills and having a positive environmental impact. We undertook assessments of selected buildings, to work out how and when they were using energy, then put together a business case. We then helped them through a competitive procurement process with suppliers, and managed implementation. The whole project was ~$350,000. SCH also used our solar crowdfunding platform to raise $30,000 towards the project. The money was donated to them on the basis that the resultant savings on energy bills would go towards providing employment and training to people at risk of homelessness, through their own property development social enterprise, called T2M.

We’re now replicating and automating this approach in partnership with the Community Housing Industry Association and housing providers, with State Government’s funding and support.

Our work with the community of Newstead in Central Victoria has been incredible. After negotiating a partnership agreement on behalf of “Renewable Newstead" with the local network company, Powercor, in late 2015, we have helped the group secure agreement from the Australian Energy Regulator for a unique tariff structure and community-based business model for the town, designed to allow the community of 500 households to be 100% Renewable by 2019. The project is supported by the Victorian State Government, and includes a replicable business model for other communities to adopt in future, across the State and beyond. It’s an exciting time for community energy, and genuinely epitomises what our company is about.

Climate change is both a looming threat but also a massive opportunity to educate and empower people and communities to take action. How does EFTP enable the everyday person build their own solutions to solving the problems posed by climate change?
Yes, we work in three different markets - regional towns, community housing and greenfield developments. We also run the solar financing platform, The People’s Solar.

In community housing, we have a partnership with the peak body, and have worked with over 50% of the sector in Victoria, for example (the Victorian sector includes around 12,000 properties). The solutions we create and enable are designed to provide revenue streams for providers, and supply cheaper energy to tenants. Solar, lighting and hot water upgrades mean the homes are made more comfortable and affordable over the long term. At the moment we are working on a low-cost financing model, to facilitate a wider range of projects in all of our markets. We have already facilitated corporate philanthropy for the Abbotsford Convent and Footscray Arts Community Centre, via The People’s Solar. For larger projects, impact investment will be required.

How has being a part of the B Corp community helped you fulfil your purpose?
I was asked recently why we are a business, and not a non-profit - considering we give away money to social enterprises. Fundamentally, it comes down to believing business is more able to solve society’s problems, rather than not-for-profits or government. We live in a capitalist society, and capitalism fundamentally shapes our world. We have to work within that system, and use it to solve our greatest problems. We set up as a business because we need businesses and corporations to ‘Be the Change’. When we first heard about the B Corp movement, we said “that’s what we’ve been trying to say and do this whole time!” it just fit with our approach and philosophy completely.

What does leadership look like to you, especially in the future of energy?
I would like to think we transition to clean energy sooner rather than later, that the Australian government will realise they can’t do anything about this transition, and simply move out of the way. Ideally, we’d like to see a large proportion of the new energy infrastructure being owned by communities, including regional towns, remote and vulnerable communities. That’s the ideal, and it’s looking good. Most companies are now thinking about how they can work towards incorporating Climate Change risks and opportunities into their business, and as part of their corporate social responsibility strategies. For example a $1 investment in solar typically translates into $3 of social impact, if placed in the right location. That impact can be closely intertwined with a donor company’s core purpose and values, and create 20+ years of impact.

‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ - Mahatma Gandhi
What are your own lived experiences of the values in your work and your everyday?
When we first started five years ago, we shared the same values and knew we didn’t want to be an “ordinary” business. We wanted to create profound social impact through our work. To ensure our impact’s sustainable, we cap our wages at three-times the national average, so we don’t contribute to wage inequality. We felt that we didn’t want to keep striving for money beyond a comfortable life. Personally, I’ve realised that if I keep reaching for more money, then it would become a never-ending goal without any real satisfaction. Eliminating that goal has been liberating, and including that cap in our constitution is incredibly affirming.

 

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