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Q&A with Louise McFadden, SHASA Coordinator

Q&A with Louise McFadden, SHASA Coordinator

SHASA Coordinator Louise McFadden chats with the Beagle Weekender about solar, sustainability – and why she loves her electric car

What is SHASA and what does it do?

SHASA is the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance. It was formed in 2014 by interested people across the Eurobodalla, to respond to the challenges of the climate crisis, including rising temperatures, floods, drought and bushfires.

How is SHASA funded?

SHASA is made possible by volunteers who have developed partnerships with local businesses, applied for grants from philanthropic organisations and government, and by donations.

What are some of the projects that SHASA has been involved in so far?

SHASA’s first major initiative was solar bulk buying. We joined forces with local solar companies, to provide solar power to consumers at a discount. We then developed a partnership with Micro Energy Systems Australia (MESA), a Bodalla-based solar provider. MESA has installed more than 250 rooftop solar systems. Their expertise and financial contribution have enabled SHASA to provide good quality, heavily discounted or free solar power to community organisations via SHASA’s Community Facility Solar Installation Program. So far there have been twelve community installations. This program has been a real winner – helping community groups that don’t have the funds to install solar and supporting a local business.

Another major project is the ‘heatwave havens’. The Red Door at Moruya is now a bushfire and heatwave haven and we’ve put in a grant application to have one in Tilba. Our goal is to have at least one haven in every town, for which we will need to apply for more funding. Science tells us extreme weather is only going to escalate, so SHASA is focused on helping our communities take practical steps to ensure residents can stay safe, healthy and comfortable.

SHASA has also bought two e-bikes that are available to hire from Moruya Bicycles. It’s a good way of promoting their use –not only cycling for pleasure but also commuting by bike instead of car.

The Repair Cafe is another very popular SHASA initiative. It began last September and takes place at the Red Door Hall every Friday from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Anyone can come along with household items that need fixing, from electrical goods and furniture to bicycles and clothing. People can bring their items for repair, contribute skills, or just drop in for a cuppa and chat. Many people have said how valuable the Repair Cafe has been, giving them something positive to do. And technical support has been added to the mix, so anyone struggling with their iPhone, tablet, laptop or PC can get help. The Repair Cafe also runs workshops.

One of your colleagues has described your work as invaluable to the non-profit community sector in Eurobodalla. Can you tell me about your role?

SHASA applied for grant funding to assist community groups across the Eurobodalla in strengthening their governance skills. We obtained enough money to set up a part-time position for one year. I’ve been in the role since November 2020, working 16 hours a week. I support twenty community groups across the Shire. These organisations rely on volunteers, who may not have all the skills needed, so I assist them with the huge range of challenges they face, from communication strategies to tax deductibility.

One common need has been digital skills. I wanted to put in place digital support that would continue after my position as Coordinator ends in November. So I contacted The Tec Exec, a digital support company based in Broulee. They are part of the ‘Be Connected’ network, a federal government initiative to empower older Australians to use digital technology. In partnership with SHASA, The Tec Exec provides training tailored to community groups’ needs. They also provide the technical support I mentioned at the Repair Cafe.

Can you tell me about the SHASA electric vehicle? Why does SHASA have one? Why is it important?

One of SHASA’s goals is to promote the use of electric vehicles (EVs). And having an electric car means that SHASA reduces its own greenhouse gas emissions. The volunteers and I use the car for our SHASA work. Anyone who sees the Nissan LEAF can ask questions and even arrange to drive it. So far, we’ve had 25 people test drive it. The idea is to encourage people to think of electric cars as practical and attainable. It is great to drive – I love it. This weekend at the Nature Conservation Council NSW’s regional conference – The Fires Changed Everything – in Batemans Bay, SHASA will run an electric-transport and microgrid workshop: a state-of-play on Eurobodalla transport and a discussion on the need to transition to EVs and community energy.

What does SHASA have planned for the future?

One big project is the installation of community microgrids. This is very popular in the community, especially after the prolonged power outages due to the fires. It’s also complex and extremely expensive. SHASA has formed a partnership with the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Essential Energy, MESA and Zepben, a company that provides software for electricity distribution networks. Led by the ANU, the partnership has applied for federal funding to run a feasibility study in eight microgrids across the Eurobodalla. We’re awaiting the outcomes of that application.

SHASA’s work is made possible through grants. Writing those grants in an important skill, not only for SHASA, but for many community groups. Recently, we set up a grant writing team. One of our volunteers with expertise in this area is running a workshop for us, so that we’re all up to speed and have a shared methodology. We’ll be able to offer this grant writing training to other local community groups.

Why is SHASA and your role important to you?

I really felt the need to see tangible, positive change, such as installing solar panels, and moving from petrol-guzzlers to electric cars, setting up microgrids and more. The opportunities are endless. And I love working with volunteers, people who are willing to give up their time to help make the Eurobodalla a better place, not just for themselves but for everyone, and for the future. I think that’s really special.

For more information about SHASA, visit their website