House of Representatives

Adjournment debate – Community energy

In the nineteenth century, it was regional Australia that led the world in the transition from gas to electricity. When electric lighting first lit up our streets, it happened in towns like Tamworth, in 1888, Penrith, in 1890, and Broken Hill, in 1891. Sydney didn’t get electricity until 1904, after Federation. This history is fitting because, in the 21st century, regional Australia is again leading the country in the transition to renewable energy.

The hard-headed engineers at the Australian Energy Market Operator tell us that some 15 gigawatts of coal power will be retired from Australia’s electricity system over the next 20 years and will be replaced almost entirely with the cheapest form of new electricity going around, and that is renewables.

The CSIRO projects that $1 trillion could be spent on Australia’s electricity system by 2050. A boom is coming in renewable energy, and it’s coming to the regions. Those same engineers have identified 33 renewable energy zones across Australia that are prime locations to concentrate on new renewables. I’m proud to say that my electorate of Indi is one of them. The question is: how do we capture the benefits of this boom for regional communities? I believe that community energy provides a pathway forwards.

Community energy is where everyday people own, develop or benefit from a renewable energy project. That project could be putting solar on every roof of every house in your street. It could be putting solar panels on the roofs of all the local schools, the local hospital or the footy club. It could mean raising money to buy and install a community battery to store electricity when it’s cheap and cut the whole town’s power bills. It could be working with a commercial wind farm to develop it and ensuring that the local community can buy shares in that project, so that every electron sold brings money back into regional communities.

The possibilities are many, but the message is clear: putting everyday regional communities at the centre of the renewables boom is the best way to ensure that they benefit. I know this because Indi is a leader in community energy. We have 12 community energy groups across the electorate, more than in any other electorate in Australia. There are 100 in total, with more than the 12 in Indi. They’re looking to build microgrids in towns like Euroa, Yea and Corryong; to put batteries in Beechworth and Yackandandah; and to install solar on low-income housing in Wodonga.

When I was elected, I committed to developing a policy to unlock the potential of community energy, not just for my electorate but for every regional community in Australia. It was pretty ambitious. That’s why, five weeks ago, I launched a community co-design process to invite everyday Australians to work with me to develop a national policy for community energy. I published a discussion paper on my website, outlining the massive potential that community energy holds for regional Australia, the barriers that exist for further deployment and policy options the Commonwealth government could take to accelerate the sector.

I’m inviting every Australian to have their say. Until 3 July I’m inviting submissions from interested Australians to comment on this paper and to answer an important question: what could the government do to unlock the potential of renewables in your regional community?

So far in this co-design process we’ve held workshops with Totally Renewable Beechworth, Totally Renewable Yackandandah, 2030 Yea, Euroa Environment Group, Renewable Albury Wodonga Energy, and Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability. We’ve held two national workshops with people from all over the country. Over the next few weeks we’ve scheduled workshops with Renewable Energy Benalla, Renewable Energy Mansfield, Wangaratta Youth Council and GV Community Energy in the Goulburn Valley. As soon as I finish this speech I’m going back up to my office to rejoin a Zoom workshop with the Kinglake Rotary club.

We’ve had submissions from Manilla, Tamworth, Dubbo, Orange and, of course, right across Indi. Submissions will close on the co-design process on July 3. I encourage every community group, local council and sporting club and every person in Australia to make a submission to my community co-design policy.

At the end of it, together with a panel of community energy experts, we will be developing a concept paper to bring to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction outlining practical, sensible steps. This is an experiment in participatory democracy. When I was elected, I promised to do politics differently. I meant it. This is community co-design, bringing a democratic approach to new policy.

[June 16, 2020]

Explore the community energy co-design process, and make a submission until July 3, 2020

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