Katoomba’s Bendigo Bank is the first Upper Blue Mountains bank to invest in solar panels. The bank is making a conscious effort to reduce its carbon footprint, commit to helping the environment and set an example for other businesses.

“Renewable energy isn’t just an environmental statement, it’s economically smart,” proclaims a billboard mounted on the pavement outside its branch.

Thirty-two SunPower™ solar panels have been installed on the roof of Bendigo Bank, generating 9.8 Kilowatts daily. The panels take up every square inch of the bank’s roof space, maximising the amount of energy harvested. Brooke Broughton, a member of the Board of Directors, estimates the bank’s capital investment of $20,000 will be recouped in about six years.

On a national scale, Bendigo Bank’s Code of Conduct incorporates its commitment to “sound environmental practices”. The bank has taken a firm stance against coal seam gas mining and does not support projects in the coal and coal seam gas sectors. Its headquarters in Bendigo, Victoria, was the first building in regional Australia to achieve a 5-star green energy rating and is recognised as one of the most environmentally friendly office buildings in Australia.

Adopting similar practises in Katoomba involved discussions amongst the Board of Directors, making enquiries about the financial viability of solar panel investment, collating quotes and seeking expert advice in the field. Local supplier, Blue Mountains Solar, met the initial criteria and business owner, Damien McMahon, was offered the contract. Not only did Damien provide a competitive quote, but his business also complied with the Board’s policy of supporting local businesses.

Blue Mountains Solar use SunPower™’s E20 327W solar panel and the SunPower Maxeon™ solar cell, which are built on a solid copper foundation, eliminating corrosion and cracking. The high-efficiency E-Series panels convert more sunlight to electricity, producing more power per panel and are ideal for properties with limited roof space.

Bendigo Bank’s solar panel system should last about forty years and comes with a 25-year warranty. The solar panels produce more than 13,000Kilowat hours annually, 10% more energy than conventional solar panels. The process from quote to installation completion is roughly three months.

Investing in solar energy has significantly reduced the bank’s energy costs. In the quarter prior to the installation the bank’s energy bill was $1,068. The following quarter’s bill (winter period), after installation, was $886. Given the higher needs for heating and interior lighting during winter, the financial savings are obvious. The money saved is offered to community projects worthy of the bank’s sponsorship such as the Low Carbon Living program. While the LCL auditors estimate that the solar system is generating 74% of banks electricity, the banks long-term goal is to produce 90% of its energy needs using the solar panels.

Bendigo Bank has proudly advertised their solar panel investment in the Blue Mountains Gazette, via social media and with a three-month window display. Community feedback to the initiative has been very positive. Customers have been curious about the solar panels, which can be viewed clearly from vantage points around town. Staff also use secure recycling bins, reflecting behavioural change and environmental awareness.

Since Bendigo Bank opened in Katoomba six and a half years ago, it has gained respect and recognition for supporting the community, and for raising awareness about ethical and environmental business practices. Bendigo Board of Directors member Anne Elliot says the ‘bush telegraph’ is still going strong in the Upper Blue Mountains. To combat climate change, you need environmentally engaged communities – which makes the Blue Mountains the ideal place to create a greener future.