THE cracked bed of Ballarat's Lake Wendouree is a sorry place for the birth of one of Victoria's leading climate change groups. Tired boat ramps lead down to dusty dirt, weeds and straggly scrub sprouting through a few stagnant puddles.
Years of drought and water restrictions have reduced this site of the Melbourne Olympics rowing and canoeing to a dried mud pit.
On these dry banks in late 2006, the climate change group Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions, or Breaze, was formed with 40 members.
Two years later, its membership has passed 1100.
It has been given $152,000 by the State Government, to show Victoria's many budding climate change groups how to grow and prosper.
Community action has been crucial to combating climate change along this stretch of central Victoria.
Breaze's strength is in its numbers, which help it buy renewable energy systems in bulk at significant discounts. Members have already received solar hot water systems at no cost, plus $200 for the price of installation. Now, the group has installed more than 100 solar roof panel systems under a bulk discount.
Meredith Alexander had solar roof panels installed on her Ballarat house this month, saving more than $1000 on the estimated cost of about $12,500.
Ms Alexander, who hopes to have solar hot water installed next year, said her one-kilowatt system powered about one-third of her electricity needs. "I want my children to have a world to live in, and they won't if we keep squandering resources at this rate," she said.
"If you do it on your own, it can be difficult to afford, but when you've got this collective buying power, it is possible."
A similar bulk-buy model in Castlemaine, run by the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group, has helped install more than 70 discounted solar roof panel systems. In Bendigo — where the office of Federal Labor MP Steve Gibbons was this month plastered with posters protesting against the size of the Government's 5 per cent carbon emissions reduction target — the Strathfieldsaye & Districts Community Enterprise group has orders for about 200 systems.
Breaze's acting executive officer, Lisa Kendal, said there was a wave of local interest in helping combat global climate change. "People are desperate to do something, and this is a very tangible thing they can do," she said.
The group is already coaching other climate change groups in projects such as installing bulk-buy solar roof panels at local schools. Breaze is also developing a project for buying locally produced food in bulk, to help reduce prices and packaging, as well as carbon emissions created by shipping food long distances.
Ms Kendal criticised the Federal Government's recent decision to scrap the $8000 solar roof panel rebate, saying it penalised low and middle-income earners. Under the new "solar credits" scheme, householders installing solar panels will receive five renewable energy certificates, instead of one, for each megawatt hour of electricity they create. But in Victoria, where solar roof panels produce less energy than in northern Australia, the rebate on a 1.5-kilowatt system could drop to about $5500.
"The Government's sending a message that it's not prepared to make that leap into the future of renewable energy in a big way. It's penalising people who are most committed to making a difference," Ms Kendal said.
"We have quite a big untapped market in Ballarat, but this will hugely slow what we're doing.
"We're going to struggle to promote the benefits financially to people."