The Sunny Savers trial in Cairns and Rockhampton has wrapped up for the year as an unqualified success.
QCOSS worked with the Queensland Government and Ergon Energy to trial a model of accessing solar power for people in public housing properties. Trial participants received solar panels at no upfront costs, a better rate on their electricity charges, access to HomeSmart to help manage their electricity usage and assistance to manage their bills with the provision of monthly electricity bills.
An incredible 867 households participated and signed up to the program. QCOSS staff spoke directly to the community, discussing their energy use with them to build their energy literacy and help them sign up to the trial.
QCOSS believes this project was critical as the impacts of rising energy costs have a number of challenges for lower-income households.
The evolution of the energy market risks creating a growing divide in our communities between those who can take advantage of opportunities to reduce energy costs and those who cannot. Those in social housing can't always access the choice and control that market reforms and new technologies are offering.
Low-income households typically spend a higher proportion of their income on essential services. With electricity prices increasing at a faster rate than other goods and services, many disadvantaged Queensland families are already struggling to maintain their budget and remain connected to their energy, water, gas, and telecommunications.
However, the rising cost of energy has a broader impact on day to day living for those on low incomes. It also impacts their ability to participate in the community, their family cohesion and their mental health and wellbeing.
Many of those involved in Sunny Savers shared a feeling that disadvantaged communities are often overlooked by policy makers and that projects such as Sunny Savers had a positive influence on tenants well beyond the financial savings that they would access.
And in fact, the response from the community revealed that the program provided participants with a sense of inclusion, belonging, and participation. The opportunity to meet with people created a space to discuss other assistance such as energy rebates, concessions, strategies to reduce energy use, and hardship programs.
The Sunny Savers team members who met with participants also provided them with additional support ranging from direct advocacy, information provision, and referral pathways. The importance of this support cannot be overstated as many of the tenants in these households were either unaware of available supports or felt unable to access services. The participation of QCOSS and local community services as a neutral third party enabled the development of trust to alleviate tenant's concerns and create an environment to support their energy literacy.
QCOSS CEO Mark Henley said, "The ability to deliver a tangible outcome for low-income households to reduce their energy cost as well as provide an opportunity for experienced practitioners to provide additional support to individuals was wonderful. We believe this trial has shown the impact that programs aimed at empowering vulnerable communities can achieve.
"While the immediate positives of the project are plain to see, the ongoing role that these systems will have in the long term cannot be underestimated and more can always be done."
QCOSS supports the role of engaging with the community service sector across the state as the local experts of their community. We would like to see future projects focus on building the capacity of the sector to deliver education, support, and opportunities to low-income households.
Extending the Sunny Savers project will enable the positive outcomes achieved in the regional trial to spread to an even greater population across Queensland.