It all started in 2016 at our local Sustainable Building and Living Expo when someone said ‘why don’t we install an EV charger in Buninyong?’
Up to that point, I didn’t have much experience with electric vehicles, other than knowing my wife and I would eventually purchase one as a family car that could be charged from our off-grid home.
So, as a member of the Buninyong Sustainability Group (BSG), I put my hand up to look into it. Little did I know it would be a four year process!
I really didn’t know where to start with EV charging
So, I spent a lot of time discussing possibilities and gathering information about EVs and charging requirements. Invariably, most discussions would centre around ‘wouldn’t it be great to have this’, rather than ‘this is what is feasible’, but that process helped me narrow down exactly what we wanted to do.
I started speaking to local business owners and City of Ballarat staff about potential locations. People were interested in the idea, but finding the right spot proved to be difficult. We originally earmarked a location outside the town hall, which was highly visible and had the right power supply. However, it’s often closed off for community events, so I reluctantly scrapped it as EV drivers wouldn’t be able to access it freely.
Finding the perfect location
A local green space, De-Soza Park, seemed to be the next best location. I checked with the City of Ballarat; high profile spot with available power – perfect!
However, the City of Ballarat weren’t keen on losing car spaces, so I spoke to the owner of the nearby hotel to see if he’d host a charger. This wasn’t ideal, as access to a public asset would then be at the discretion of a business which could change hands at any time.
So, I went back to the City of Ballarat who agreed to position the charger on the footpath in front of the park. I was delighted…this is a central and visible location where the Buninyong Sustainability Group could promote the transition to low-emission transport and a more sustainable way of living.
The BSG had raised some money from the 2016 Expo and we also had been successful in a grant application through the Rainbow Serpent Festival. We then approached the Community Bendigo Bank who funded the balance of what we needed for the purchase and installation of the EV charger.
Cost blow out
Just as I thought we were on a roll, the City of Ballarat came back with a quote of $10,000 for preparatory civil works. This was nearly double the cost of the charger and installation.
I approached City of Ballarat Councillor Ben Taylor, who pushed Council to facilitate civil works and an agreement was reached that they would cover half if we came up with the remaining $5000.
At this point, I was close to giving up. It was only through the efforts of Cr Taylor – who is now our Mayor – that the City of Ballarat eventually agreed to complete the civil works for us at no cost.
What I’m calling EVCI (electric vehicle charger installation) day happened on the 18th January, when an AC AURIGA unit, that’s manufactured in Victoria, was put in the ground by EVolution Australia.
Within 24 hours of it becoming operational, it was on PlugShare and a day or two later I found myself on local radio talking about the benefits it’ll bring to Buninyong.
When I listened to that radio interview, there’s no hint of the frustration I felt numerous times throughout the last four years. I got push back so many times and had to go back again and again to get the answer I wanted. A number of times I almost sent the grant money back, as another obstacle was reached that had to be overcome.
While I was at the front of this project, there were lots of people behind me. The BSG president Andrea Mason, my wife, Steve from the bank and, of course, Cr Taylor. I just can’t thank them enough; every time I paused, one of them would hit the play button again. If they hadn’t pushed me, this project would never have happened.
For other community groups wanting to do something similar…
I’d give three pieces of advice. Don’t give up. Seek help. And don’t give up.
I hope our experience and telling this story makes the mountain a little easier to climb for other sustainable living groups.
The Buninyong Sustainable Building & Living Expo will be held on Sunday 23rd February from 10am to 3.30pm at Royal Park, Buninyong. For more information go to https://www.facebook.com/buninyongsustainability/