Hepburn Z-NET is a community partnership project to transition Hepburn Shire in Victoria, Australia, the first zero-net emission shire (local council) in Australia. The Shire encompasses the land of the Dja Dja Wurrung people, covers around 1,473 square kilometres to the northeast of Melbourne, and includes 13 towns and villages, with a combined population of around 16,604 people.
Figure 1: Map of Hepburn Shire. Source: Community Transition Plan, page 22. http://hepburnznet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Z-Net_CTP_Screen-1.pdf
The area has long been a magnet for people interested in sustainable living and climate action. Over the years, multiple sustainability groups have formed, including Hepburn Relocalisation Network, Transition Creswick, SHARE, Trentham Sustainability Group, and Australia’s first operational wind farm (Hepburn Wind). During this time, Hepburn Wind manager Taryn Lane had seen how Z-NET (zero net energy towns) groups in other communities were developing blueprints for climate mitigation. With the help of diverse groups and individuals across the area, a team was formed to develop a bespoke plan for transitioning Hepburn Shire. By 2018, Hepburn Z-NET officially launched after receiving support from Sustainability Victoria, the Hepburn Shire Council, Samsø Energy Academy in Denmark, the Diversion Environmental Foundation and other groups such as local community banks, businesses and philanthropists. As a result of this significant community and cross-sector support, Hepburn Z-NET won the 2019 Premier’s Sustainability Award and was a finalist in the nationwide Banksia NFP & NGO Award.
Hepburn Z-NET runs various programs co-developed with locals, researchers, industry and technical stakeholders and compiled into a Community Transition Plan. Program implementation is overseen and guided by a community Roundtable. One program focuses on the energy sector, with a range of projects such as the Heat Pump Hot Water Bulk Buy opportunity, expanding the energy-smart, business energy upgrades, and support and financial assistance for homeowners through the Home Energy Assessments and Energy Savvy Upgrades Program. Programs in other sectors include waste management projects (such as on-farm composting trials) and land conservation (such as the regenerative farming project). In particular, the Trentham carbon forestry project supports the growth of local woodlots that use regenerative forestry techniques, such as planting new trees, protecting existing trees and selective harvesting. Through this approach, the project aims to boost carbon sequestration and forest biodiversity while supporting access to firewood – an important home heating source for residents in the area. Across these programs and the many others that Hepburn Z-NET organises, the group aims to reduce Hepburn Shire’s current production of 262,041 tons of carbon/year to achieve zero-net-energy by 2025 and zero-net emissions by 2030.
The group is regularly tracking progress against emissions data. A baseline emissions profile before the development of the Community Transition Plan and incorporated data from a wide range of sources, including agricultural data (such as the number of cows and sheep), data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the National Inventory emissions reports, figures provided by local energy network distributor Powercor and household surveys on energy use patterns. This was then cross-checked against state and national averages to confirm the validity of the baseline figures.
Figure 2: Results of baseline emissions modelling undertaken by Hepburn Z-NET. Source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/26579541
This data was then compiled into a range of reports that were easy to share around the community, such as the Hepburn Engagement Postcards.
Figure 3: Electricity baseline information compiled into postcard form. Source: http://hepburnznet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hepburn-Engagement-Postcards_Small.pdf
By 2023, the group was in phase two, focusing on zero-net energy and reducing emissions beyond the 2022 emissions energy output of 53,690 tons of carbon. Progress towards this net-zero energy emissions goal has been enhanced through community and business participation, such as with the 100% GreenPower Power Purchase Agreements undertaken by the large local consumers Central Highlands Water and Council.
Current and planned future climate mitigation activities for the Hepburn Shire community are described and staged in the Community Transition Plan.
Figure 4: Cover of the 10-year Community Transition Plan by Hepburn Z-NET. Source: http://hepburnznet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Z-Net_CTP_Screen-1.pdf
This transition plan aims to guide climate mitigation planning for the Hepburn Shire area and be useful for other communities to develop their pathways. The plan is reusable under a Creative Commons license, and the baseline calculations model is relatively user-friendly and replicable. Of course, the organizers acknowledge many constraints to achieving their goals, resulting from state and federal government delays in supporting or regulating climate mitigation across the transport and agricultural sectors. However, the localized nature of the project and strong community buy-in mean that the area offers a unique ability to pilot and test new projects in these sectors. As highlighted in a Renew article on the project, ‘Leading by example, education
and community engagement is an essential part of the project in helping to build a wider emissions literacy.’
- Hepburn Z-NET website: https://hepburnznet.org.au
- Hepburn Z-NET Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HepburnZnet/
- Hepburn Z-NET Project Lead: Taryn Lane, firstname.lastname@example.org
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Dr Robyn Gulliver