A group of dedicated locals and a generous community bank have combined to get 98 solar panels on Blackheath's community hall.
The panels were funded by a Bendigo Bank Foundation grant of $74,810, part of a special fund for communities which were impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.
At the official unveiling this week, Henry Lebovic, a member of the Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre (BANC) board, said it was part of a plan to create a place of refuge for locals to take shelter in during emergencies.
The building was used as an unofficial neighbourhood "safer place" during the summer of 2019-20 when large parts of Blackheath faced threats from the fires.
The solar array is the first step towards energy independence for the community halls, which also house BANC and the library.
BANC general manager, Leah Godfrey, said the goal of the broader project was not only to create a more useable space for the community but also ensure Blackheath had a powered venue where residents could gather when natural disasters and emergencies created blackouts.
"Our vision is to provide a place of last resort for the town, particularly for vulnerable people, whose welfare has always been BANC's top priority," she said.
"We are thrilled to see the vital first part come to reality and extend our deepest thanks to Bendigo Bank for helping to make it a reality."
Robert Stock, chairman of Bendigo Bank's Katoomba branch, said the bank's usual policy was to give smaller grants to multiple community groups but the foundation's post-bushfire fund allowed them to award the significant grant.
"I'm terribly pleased that we were able to support this," he said.
Our vision is to provide a place of last resort for the town.- Leah Godfrey
Ms Godfrey thanked local Jenny Kelly, who is on the board of both BANC and the Bendigo Bank and helped facilitate the grant.
BANC is now applying for further money from the NSW Government's Westinvest infrastructure fund to complete the project.
"The next step is to complete the solar installation by adding a bank of batteries which will not only provide power in the evenings but function when the grid is down, allowing at least part of the centre to remain powered during emergency situations such as snow and wind storms and probably more significantly, bushfires," Ms Godfrey said.
"We also hope to install some water tanks that will capture rain from the roof to provide water for day to day use but also for firefighters if the centre is threatened."
Christine Wheeler, who is applying for more grants to finish the project, said she hoped it would "lead the way, to be an example that other parts of our LGA can take on".
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