News / Environment

Clean energy pioneer goes belly up

Administrator hopeful that jobs can be saved and organisation can continue trading

Mark Phillips
Wednesday, November 3, 2021

A PIONEERING Brunswick organisation that has helped thousands of households and businesses around Australia convert to renewable energy has been placed in voluntary administration. 

The directors of Australian Energy Foundation called in insolvency experts BRI Ferrier on Friday after failing to secure investments to carry the organisation forward. 

At this stage, the size of the organisation’s debts and the number of creditors is unknown, as is the future of its 28 staff.  

AEF was founded in 2000 as the Moreland Energy Foundation Limited (MEFL) with proceeds from the sale of the Brunswick and Coburg councils’ electricity supply departments under the Kennett Government’s privatisation of Victoria’s power industry. 

It has since grown to be a national organisation with staff in Melbourne and Sydney while remaining true to its Brunswick roots. 

It changed its name to Australian Energy Foundation in 2019 in recognition of the national scale of its operations. 

It is understood that David Coyne of BRI Ferrier was appointed as administrator on Friday after negotiations with at least one other organisation to invest in AEF fell over late last week. 

Mr Coyne confirmed he was now administrator but declined to comment on the circumstances which led to the organisation being placed in the hands of accountants. 

He said he was examining the company’s financial position ahead of a first report back to creditors next week but AEF would continue operating and no staff had been retrenched. 

“At the moment I am undertaking a review of the operation with management to see if there’s part or all of it that can be kept going in some form,” he said. 

“I intend to try to continue trading to see if there’s any way I can keep its operations going and while we seek interested parties to take it over.” 

From humble beginnings, AEF has positioned itself as a national leader in the delivery of practical solutions for households, small business, municipalities and other organisations to make the switch to renewable energy. 

It has partnered with more than a dozen councils in four states to help them reduce their own emissions, including co-designing the City of Moreland’s Zero Carbon framework and action plan. 

It provides energy assessments and recommendations for cost-effective ways that households and businesses can reduce their carbon emissions and has a supplier network of tradespeople to install solar panels, batteries and other technology. 

It is registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. 

The organisation has been through considerable change over the past 12 months following the departure of former chief executive Alison Rowe in December. 

A new chief executive, Anna Crabb, was only appointed in June. 

According to its most recent annual report, in 2019-20 AEF helped reduce carbon dioxide by 58.9 kilotonnes and installed 2.65 megawatts of renewable energy. It was involved in the retrofitting 1270 homes and provided another 533 energy assessments. 

AEF is yet to lodge its annual financial statement with the corporate regulator. It made a surplus of $209,062 in 2019-20, a turnaround from a loss of $368,404 the previous year. 

The surplus was achieved through a sharp focus on cutting costs, including staff, after revenue plunged by 16%. 

It draws most of its income from consultancy fees and project income, topped up by annual funding from Moreland Council which was $761,953 last year.