Environment / Opinion

Energy Foundation a loss to Moreland community

The late Mike Hill would grieve the loss of the Australian Energy Foundation but would also be seeking new ways forward, writes Helen Politis
Wednesday, September 14, 2022

THE community-based organisation, the Australian Energy Foundation (AEF), ceased its operations on August 31. As the dust settles on the announcement, the reaction from community members is overwhelmingly one of sadness for the loss of a valuable resource.

The AEF was established by Moreland City Council in 2000 as the Moreland Energy Foundation (MEFL), with the proceeds of the forced sale of the Brunswick and Coburg electricity supply services by the state government. Innovative work on energy and environmental sustainability had begun in the 1970ss. MEFL built on and advanced this legacy.

MEFL developed and promoted energy efficiency to local households by empowering people with sustainable energy tools and resources. Over the years MEFL and later the AEF worked to engage groups and organisations towards developing solutions and taking action to reduce environmental impacts and energy costs. A broad range of practical measures to reduce energy loss was made widely available, such as using a stick of incense to check for air movements and rolled up towels to reduce heat leaks and draughts.

Carbon reducing programs, such as Zero Carbon Moreland, assisted all members of the community, including migrant and vulnerable community members and renters, who are often unable to make modifications to their homes. It was an outreach model that helped to change energy habits and contribute to the reduction of energy poverty.

The Moreland Solar City project delivered bulk buying programs for solar and hot water. Participants received assessments and advice on practical measures, such as efficient lighting, installing water efficient taps, improving insulation, selecting energy efficient appliances, sealing gaps, reducing reliance on cars and measures to reduce food waste. The program could well be regarded as the forerunner to the Moreland Council Zero Carbon 2040 Framework.

MEFL morphed into the Australian Energy Foundation in 2019 and sought independence from the council, who had contributed funding and Board governance. In a statement on its website, the council has acknowledged MEFL’s contribution to thousands of Moreland residents who were assisted to reduce their power bills and make the switch to green energy. It said this legacy would continue this financial year through the Mike Hill fellowship.

End of the road for clean energy pioneer

Mike Hill (pictured above) was Moreland’s first Mayor, an educator, a visionary and an environmentalist. In partnership with other Labor councillors, he was a driving force in setting up MEFL. It was his belief that social, economic and environmental justice is best served through and with the community.

Mike was also pragmatic and knew how to read the winds of change. Former MEFL employees and those who knew him well share the view that Mike would have recognised the changing market conditions and acted responsively to the evolving environmental and energy challenges.

Lorna Pitt, Mike’s partner and co-director of WestWyck EcoVillage in Brunswick West, agrees that Mike was unwavering and ferociously safeguarded community assets. Like many, she has believes that given the current state of the environment, the change towards renewables and the high cost of energy, the community needs a local environmental organisation, more than ever.

The vision of the MEFL founders was to create a community-based organisation that delivered to the people of Moreland, innovative and practical energy solutions, for the good of the environment. MEFL aimed to be a global exemplar and it received international recognition, winning a United Nations Environment Day Award for solar and energy efficiency initiatives.

Community building and inclusion was core to Mike Hill’s vision, drive and work. Like others, I suspect he would grieve the loss of the AEF, however he would also be actively seeking new ways forward.

Since the announcement of the closure of the AEF, some have begun exploring alternative pathways to enhance and build on its legacy and strengthen our community capacity to sustainably deliver power to the people.

Helen Politis is a Brunswick resident and a former student of Mike Hill