HomeInfrastructureAll Other InfrastructureBenzina Mopeds Powering Council’s 100% Renewables Ambitions

Benzina Mopeds Powering Council’s 100% Renewables Ambitions

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Norfolk Island

Electric mopeds from Brisbane-based company Benzina Zero have played a key role in a local government’s ground-breaking efforts to go 100% renewable.

Twenty Benzina Zero Duo mopeds are helping transform the transport options on the tiny and isolated Australian territory of Norfolk Island, where the local council is well on its way toward a complete shift to renewable energy by next year.

Australia’s most isolated local government area, 3394km from the shores of Queensland, is setting a bold course for its council peers on the mainland, as Norfolk extricates itself from a dependence on diesel and its escalating costs of living associated with that dependence.

Norfolk Island Regional Council has installed 880 solar panels on the island so far, coupled them with a two-kilowatt Tesla Megapack large-scale rechargeable lithium-ion battery station, and additional megawatt batteries around the island to create a microgrid.

With that energy source in place, along with six fast-charge stations and more on the way, the council is also well advanced in replacing its entire vehicle fleet with electric cars, trucks, mopeds and motorcycles.

Council staff are using the Duos for inspections and to travel between facilities, and the mopeds have become popular rentals among the approximately 30,000 visitors to the island each year.

Council general manager Andrew Roach said Norfolk Island tourism operators and a significant number of the island’s 2,200 residents have quickly seen the potential of electric vehicles, since the EVs arrived in March, and have submitted expressions of interest to buy their own mopeds, cars and buses.

Local Government Pioneer

Benzina Zero co-founder and “chief plugger-inner”, Ben Silver, said Norfolk Island Regional Council is clearing a path for other Australian local governments to take the leap into electric vehicles.

Ben said Benzina has reached out to numerous local governments since the business was launched in September 2022, with offers for incentives for council employees to switch to electric mopeds and scooters.

“Local Governments love to wait and see with over local government do. Then everyone tends to get on board,” he said.

“Councils don’t necessarily move quickly. But Norfold did.

“It had a big drive to make things happen.”

Island Reinvigoration

Andrew was recruited as Norfolk Island Regional Council general manager four years ago, to transform and reinvigorate the council and address a number of the island’s issues.

He had achieved similar results as a CEO and consultant with other local governments in Queensland and NSW.

He spent much of his first six months with Norfolk Island Regional Island just reading the piles of strategies produced for the council over previous decade and identifying their most important recommendations.

They included the shift to renewables, which became even more important when Covid emerged soon after Andrew began with the council and the flow of visitors and tourism dollars ended abruptly.

“A month or two into the pandemic and the island closing, we realised the island was completed reliant on tourism revenue,” Andrew said.

“Covid really changed the dynamic of the council and accelerated the need for a significant shift towards renewables.”

The loss of tourism income further highlighted the rising cost of living caused by the island’s dependence on increasingly expensive diesel to power vehicles and generate electricity.

Based on current prices, it was costing Council more than $93,000 a year just to power its own vehicle fleet, while residents and businesses were paying around 80 cents a kilowatt for electricity. That compares to around 20 cents a kilowatt in cities such as Brisbane.

“The pandemic exposed the council’s financial fragility and it went down the path of insolvency, which occurred in December 2020. Then the government acted to put the council into administration in early 2021,” he explained.

“We then went into action to make all the changes, such as the 100% Renewable project.”

The council received a $5.2 million grant from the Australian Federal Government to implement those renewable initiatives and it has enacted around 85% of those funded measures.

Financial Turnaround

“Now we’re a financial council and we have lots of new assets put in place. We’re powering ahead at the moment,” Andrew said.

“It’s been really good to see it come to fruition after four years at the island.

“Without Covid, we probably would not have received the funding and support from the Commonwealth Government over the past three years to make some of these things happen.

“The circumstances we found ourselves in opened up opportunities we would not have had otherwise.”

“There’s so many ways personal electric vehicles could fit within council operations, all the runs staff have to do.”

The council’s good fortune also extended to a serendipitous meeting with an owner of Queensland’s Bartons Motor Group, which was just establishing its EV Moto Brisbane store to specialise in electric vehicles.

Andrew was invited to visit the store at Capalaba and instantly saw the potential of electric vehicles for Norfolk Island.

“I rode one of the Duos around Brisbane for a while and knew they would really work,” he reflected.

“There’s so many ways personal electric vehicles could fit within council operations, all the runs staff have to do.”

The visit reaped major dividends for Norfolk Island Regional Council and Bartons, which sold the council 20 Duos, four EV Motos motorcycles, five Nissan Leaf cars, five GWM Oras, five LDV utilities and two EcoTeq mowers.

“We’re replacing our entire fleet. We’ve halved the amount of diesel we’re consuming to fuel our vehicles and electricity generation and we are looking to halve that again,” Andrew said.

“The cost of living will reduce considerably. We now have different tariffs for different times of the day and they’re now down to five cents a kilowatt at times in the day when the sun is shining.

“At night, it’s down to 35 cents, which is still half what it used to be.”

Tourist looking at eMopeds
Tourists are quick to discover the Duo and head off for a day exploring the island. Photo credit: Benzina Zero.

Moped Rentals

The Duos are based at the council’s tourism centre, in the island’s population hub in Burnt Pine, and have been very popular with visitors, “particularly when we have cruise ships coming to the island”.

“I’ve ridden them a few times around the island and I couldn’t take the smile off my face.”

“Last week, we had 2500 cruise ship visitors for the day and all the bikes were out and about around the island,” he said.

“When tourists get to town, they head to the middle of the island, see these bikes and the next thing you know they’re on the bikes and away they go. It’s a fun way for tourists to get around our small island, which is just 40 square kilometres.

“For $60 for the day, we give them a helmet, a fully-charged bike and a map and send them off around the island.

“I’ve ridden them a few times around the island and I couldn’t take the smile off my face.

“Council is looking to buy at least another 20 and we’ve got locals coming in and asking if they can buy them, so we’re looking to set that up.”

Joint Venture

Bartons Motor Group representatives are visiting the island at the end of this month and will further plans to set up a joint venture that includes establishing a maintenance workshop on the island.

“We are going to appoint two apprentice mechanics each year for the next four years, to build our workshop up and provide locals with the ability to have the EVs maintained on island,” Andrew explained.

“That’s one of the stumbling blocks with purchasing an EV, because they must be serviced by the people you buy them from. It’s important they can easily be serviced here.”

The council has also been quick to include the mopeds and other renewable initiatives in its tourism promotions.

“I can see huge benefits for big South East Queensland councils if they start thinking more along these lines.”

“Everyone is looking at lowering their footprint on the world. So if we can show potential visitors the island is operating on renewable energy, it’s a great incentive to build on our tourism platform.

“There’s around 350 rental cars on the island and within a few weeks of us going down this path, there was significant interest among the three rental car companies to replace them with electric vehicles.”

“Councils are community leaders and they need to be able to show the community which way change should go.”

With his experience at the helm of numerous local governments, Andrew says he sees massive advantages electric vehicles and renewable energy could bring to other councils.

“Not just for remote communities like Norfolk Island,” he added.

“I can see huge benefits for big South East Queensland councils if they start thinking more along these lines.

“Councils are community leaders and they need to be able to show the community which way change should go. They have the ability to deliver change quickly and then you will find vast numbers of people in the community will follow.

“You see so many councils that claim they’re a green council and all they’ve done is greened up their sewerage treatment works or their council chambers by putting up solar panels.

“If they were really serious, they’d walk down to their carpark and say, righty-ho, we’re not having them anymore, we’re switching to electric vehicles. They could change them immediately”

“It’s commonsense to make those changes because they will save money in their operations.

“If you look at the Duos, they’re cheap to purchase, compared to other vehicle options, and they are easy to maintain. The Benzina Zeros have 80 moving parts, as opposed to a petrol scooter that has 800 moving parts.

“It’s just a change of thinking by everyone.”

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