Cross benchers join in call for sensible energy policy
Posted June 23, 2017
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (15:14): I rise here today to speak on a matter of great public importance—the urgent need for a national energy policy that supports a strong economy, vibrant communities and sensible environmental outcomes. For too long, energy policy in Australia has been at the whim of policy indecision, and the lack of certainty has resulted in low industry confidence and, according to many, is one of the main contributors to rising energy costs and increasing unreliability. This is a matter of great public importance. While I understand the complexity of the issue and that there is no single solution, there is an absolute need for a nationally coordinated approach across jurisdictions with bipartisan support. I welcome the words of the opposition leader, Mr Bill Shorten, and his commitment for Labor to work with the government to end the climate wars. This parliament has an opportunity to set the path of energy policy for the next generation, and I know that my colleagues the member for Denison, Mr Wilkie, the member for Melbourne, Mr Bandt, the member for Mayo, Ms Sharkie, and the member for Kennedy, Mr Katter, will provide valuable insights into the views of their communities in addressing this problem.
Today, I want to raise the profile of community energy and the community energy sector and recognise the integral role it can play in the national conversation. I will outline the actions taken in my electorate and the call to the government to be much more active in supporting community and grassroots activity. To date, the community energy sector has not been represented in the national debate—it sits on the fringe of mainstream discussion. It is a sector that has been described, at best, as an industry in its infancy. At worst, the communities working to reduce their own energy costs and secure supply have been described as living in fantasy land. But today I want to acknowledge the contribution of the community energy sector and welcome the opportunity to ensure that they continue to play an integral part in the government's energy policy.
Community owned energy projects allow communities to develop, produce and benefit from locally produced energy. They include supply based projects such as renewable energy installations and storage as well as demand-side projects like energy efficiency, demand management and community education. But, most importantly, community energy projects ensure ownership and decision-making involves local decision-making and stakeholders. In his address to the National Press Club in February, the Prime Minister said:
Australia should be able to achieve the policy trifecta of energy that is affordable, reliable and secure.
The strong view of my community is that it also needs to be sustainable.
It is in the sustainable area that community energy plays a particularly significant role. My electorate is not alone here, and there is national support for renewable energy. In March 2017, the Australia Institute reported in a national poll that 67 per cent of people in Australia think that we, as a nation, are moving into renewable energy too slowly, and 73 per cent supported setting a new RET for 2030. In releasing his report on Friday, Dr Alan Finkel said:
Our electricity system is entering an era where it must deal with changing priorities and evolving technologies. If the world around us is changing, we have to change with it. More of the same is not an option, we need to aim higher.
If we adopt a strategic approach, we will have fewer local and regional problems, and can ensure that consumers pay the lowest possible prices over the long term.
I agree with him.
Today, I want to talk about the communities in my electorate that are aiming high and who are establishing strategic relationships with local and state governments and industry to develop their own solutions, to reduce their energy costs and secure their own energy futures. It is an approach that has been supported even by the White House, with Candace Vahlsing, former adviser for climate change, saying:
… community solar in particular is a way where folks can invest together, share a solar system and it has strong economic benefits …
Across Australia, there are more than 60 groups developing community energy projects as well as solar powered breweries and dairy farms, bioenergy hubs, farmer wind co-ops and energy efficiency programs. There is great diversity in community driven energy activities across the nation and even in my electorate. I am proud to support my communities working together for a renewable energy future.
The projects, right across Australia, have many benefits—obviously finance, but they also include increased energy literacy, opportunities for local economic development and resilience and, really importantly, community development and empowerment. For example, the community of Yackandandah continue to drive change at a grassroots level with their project, Totally Renewable Yackandandah. This project is a staged community mini-grid solution, with the community aiming to achieve their vision of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022. Working with the Indigo Shire Council and AusNet Services—and hopefully, in the very near future, with the Victorian government—this project is a clear demonstration of how community energy allows communities to reduce their costs, maybe make income from power production and enable these benefits to be felt across the broader community, addressing the government's energy policy priority for security and affordability.
Another example is the Benalla Sustainability Future Group, which, in partnership with the Benalla Rural City Council, is conducting a feasibility study in preparation for the Benalla Future Energy Plan. This project will deliver two feasibility studies for renewable energy, which will be replicated in additional areas, both small and large scale. There is also Winton Wetlands, the largest-scale wetlands restoration project in the Southern Hemisphere. Its committee of management is leading the development of a feasibility study to deliver the McKeown power project, a 10-megawatt solar park. Once completed, this project will enable all generated power to be sold to local consumers through a relationship with an energy provider, and profits will be reinvested in the regeneration and scientific advancement of the Winton Wetlands. Additionally, Wodonga council, in conjunction with Renewable Albury Wodonga Energy, has appointed Moreland Energy Foundation to conduct a feasibility study and develop a plan for a solar farm within Wodonga that benefits the whole community.
There are many other community projects, and I would like to acknowledge the work of the Goulburn Broken Greenhouse Alliance and their partnership with local government; the Murrindindi Climate Network; the Wangaratta Sustainability Network and the terrific forum that they led last Friday showcasing business case studies of when local businesses make money doing work on waste and renewable energy; North East Water—the terrific leadership role they are playing at the grassroots and the impact that their work is having right across Indi; and businesses such as Wilson Transformer Company and Mars Petcare—you really are leading the way.
These projects have set standards and other communities are following. In my closing comments, I would like to note that in my electorate, but also right across Australia, we are seeing the results of what happens when industry and community expectations run ahead of government legislation and regulation. In this parliament we have an opportunity to plan for the future, to ensure that we consider community energy as a legitimate mechanism in this debate that we are having. The community energy sector has grown since 2010, when there were only two or three groups, to more than 60 groups today. It is a great indication that this sector will continue to play a significant role in the future of energy. The question for us, as a parliament, is: how can we best support this really amazing innovation?
Australians are saying loudly and clearly: we want to invest in renewable energy and we want to invest in our communities. This means that jobs and investments stay local and communities have ownership over their own power. To us, as members of parliament, and to the minister sitting at the desk, I say: can you please give serious consideration to the work of communities like Indi, Yackandandah, Benalla, Wangaratta, Murrindindi and Mansfield. Communities are saying: 'We're leading the way; government, come on board.' I call on the government not only to support these communities but to put some money behind it—provide dedicated funding for community-specific integrated plans and projects to show the communities of Australia that the government is behind them, and, even though we might lag in legislation and regulation, we will be at the front in funding.
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