A ‘sunbelt’ of locally-owned renewable power stations would drive regional Australia’s economic recovery under an ambitious $483 million proposal unveiled today by Helen Haines MP.
The Independent Federal Member for Indi this morning published her Local Power Plan that would establish 50 hubs in regional centres across the country to support local community groups to develop their own renewable energy projects.
Each of the hubs would provide technical expertise and would distribute $650,000 worth of grants to local community groups each year for the next 10 years.
Dr Haines said the proposal was modelled on a successful pilot program in the Victorian cities of Bendigo and Ballarat and in the Latrobe Valley.
“In the Victorian pilot, an initial investment of $1.3 million generated 15 projects worth $14.5 million to the local economy and saved people $364,000 in electricity bills every year,” she said.
“Our proposal is significantly more ambitious so would deliver much greater economic return and much greater savings.”
Dr Haines’ plan also involves two new schemes to ensure regional communities get a better deal from commercial energy developments.
The first would see a public underwriting scheme for majority community-owned energy projects.
“The underwriting scheme would attract large private investors to partner with local communities to develop, for instance, a solar farm or a community battery that could help power an entire regional town,” she said.
The second would involve a new requirement for any new large-scale renewable energy projects to offer locals the chance to purchase up to 20 per cent of the project value and secure a minority stake in new projects.
Dr Haines said that this proposal builds on a similar scheme that has operated in Denmark since 2008. In Australia, the Sapphire Wind Farm in NSW is the only large-scale renewable project to be developed through a co-investment model, having raised a $7.5 million co-investment from local residents.
“Every year, energy companies make billions of dollars selling electricity to Australians,” she said.
“If everyday regional Australians could invest in these new renewable power stations, we’d create a significant new income stream for everyday people.” Moruya and Bega were both recognised as being suitable townships that could install community solar and battery stations if costly applications were removed. South Coast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) president Kathryn Maxwell told The Beagle that communities such as Tilba wanting to establish a local solar solution were presented, from the outset, with costs of up to $75,000 payable to electricity providers to determine if a community proposal is technically feasible. "There are all these barriers and we need a national plan to overcome the barriers. We have small scale on rooftops, we have large scale that are being supported but what we don't have is the small to medium scale that would suit communities such as Tilba. They are not making it easy at all. In fact they are making it hard". "There are millions going into the big farms but what about the medium scale where smaller solutions would help the community in employment and keep the money local". "There are a number of reasons why it is happening more in Victoria than here and it has to do with legislative barriers Three organisations were asked to be on the panel for the launch of the Local Power Plan with South Coast Health and Sustainability Alliance selected due to their hands on experience at delivering community solar options.
If the NSW Government removed such barriers, communities could provide their own power and storage systems, without overloading the electricity grid.
In August, Dr Haines met Energy Minister Angus Taylor to lobby for the Local Power Plan proposal to be funded in the federal Budget in October. Later this year, she will introduce legislation to establish a new Australian Local Power Agency to administer the scheme.
“To make this a reality, we need the government to come to the table,” she said.
“Right now, we need practical solutions to jolt our economy back to life, and this is a sensible, practical plan we developed with communities right across regional Australia.
“This could be a catalytic investment in our regions – I’m calling on the Energy Minister to step up for regional Australia.
“The Local Power Plan would mean lower bills, stronger energy security, and new jobs and opportunities for regional Australians. Now more than ever, that’s exactly what we need.” The Plan is available at localpowerplan.com
Dr Haines said "While I welcome new technology investment, the Federal government’s ‘technology roadmap’ announced today by Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor MP appears to involve no plan for renewable energy, and no plan to ensure everyday people benefit from this transition.
Across the next 20 years, as our coal-fired power stations are retired, we will need to invest billions of dollars re-building our electricity supply through renewables.
"The 'roadmap' announcement does nothing to support my communities and others like them across regional Australia. We have no plan in this country to harness renewables to create new industries, new jobs, and thriving regions.That’s why I release my Local Power Plan – a blueprint for everyday Australians to benefit from renewable energy.
"To every Australian dismayed by the government’s proposal for a gas-fired recovery, the Local Power Plan offers a different vision to power us out of our current crisis. '"To every Australian who believes the future of our regions will be based on the clean industries of the 21st century, the Local Power Plan offers a practical way to make it happen.
"To every Australian who is willing to work hard and work smart to make our country the clean energy superpower of the world, the Local Power Plan is a way to achieve that vision.