Beacons of light update

Words by Marguerite Marshall


After around a year of waiting, work and money, Eltham’s Zen Den café will be able to continue to shine a light for a safe climate future.         

Following Zen Den installing 50 solar panels, Nillumbik Council last year told them to remove 26 of their 50 panels because the building had a heritage overlay. 

However, Zen Den decided to oppose this. Co-owner Tony Rizk said they hired a heritage specialist at a “substantial financial cost to us” to face a VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) challenge last September. The heritage expert said only 10 panels needed to be removed and three other panels had to be reoriented. 

Nillumbik Council accepted this as did VCAT. However this process took several months. The deadline for the changes to the arrangement of panels is this August. 

The fewer panels will lessen the 20-30 percent of the café’s electricity that the 50 panels had supplied.  Lack of roof space stopped Zen Den from buying enough to provide all of their electricity needs, Tony said.

The 50 panels bought in 2020, annually saved them around 15-20% in electricity costs and were to have been paid off in five to six years. 

Tony said the reason why they installed panels and fought for their retention, was to help achieve a safe climate future. “We need panels on millions of buildings to reach zero carbon emissions.  We are all obliged to do our bit for a safe climate future – if we are able.” He said he did this for his children’s future, and that his children were very strong advocates for effective action. 

Zen Den has had positive feedback from their customers.