Can you imagine the atmosphere generated by a rural community walking together on their way to support their local football match, knowing they will be able to walk safely home again along a solar-lit path?
For Yinnar and District Community Association treasurer, John Harris, this it is exactly what he hopes to soon see for the small rural township of Yinnar.
For over ten years the community has identified lighting the one-kilometre path from the towns centre to their recreation reserve as a high priority project.
“We got an initial general costing on putting in reticulated lighting and it was around $160,000. It was just too daunting”, John said.
Something else that needed to be considered was that reticulated lights must be installed at the same time, meaning all the funding was required at once. Solar lighting on the other hand could be installed pole by pole.
“A single solar light on a pole with a battery and a panel was $9,000, and so we thought we might just be able to raise that.” Once started, additional support would assist with further fundraising.
Solar lighting could also incorporate energy tracking systems, offering learning opportunities for the local primary school to track how much energy had been captured and used over time.
“The students could actually see in a very direct way just what value there was coming out of solar lighting”, he said.
“In the last ten years, while reticulated lighting has stayed around the same price, solar lighting has got cheaper and cheaper. It was a no-brainer at that point.”
For John, the best part of this project so far has been the support from the community for having a go, followed by generating wider interest in solar power as a potential solution to public lighting needs.
The Yinnar community’s need for the footpath lighting has always involved safety concerns about people walking home next to a dark country road, particularly in the winter months. However, the lighting would also allow more people to walk instead of driving to the nearby site, and for the community to expand the use of their facilities.
One of the greatest challenges of this project, John said, had been finding funding at the levels needed and making connections to see it happen. Chris Barfoot, the Project Officer for the Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub contacted John after hearing about the Community Association’s discussions with the Latrobe City Council and their potential involvement in the project.
“Chris was very supportive and very helpful to us in being able to provide contacts with suitable companies who could provide solar lighting. He also had contacts with the Latrobe Valley Authority who we were preparing to talk to about a submission for funding.”
While things were put on hold during the recent state election, John said he hopes to hear back from the Latrobe Valley Authority in the next few weeks. The grant application in question was submitted by the Latrobe City Council, with the Community Association as a partner.