OPINION

Published by Australian Community Media

By Helen Haines MP

2020 has given Australians a once-in-a-generation moment to decide what we want our future to look like.

Especially in the regions, people are hungry for practical ideas about how to revive our stunned economy and ensure that the decisions we make now set us up for a generation of shared prosperity.

Renewable energy is one such opportunity. Regional Australia has the best renewable energy resources in the world and a boom in investment is already underway.

Just ask the people of Dubbo – they are at the centre of a new “renewable energy zone” which attracted $38 billion of private investment interest in June. Over coming decades, hundreds of billions will be invested in dozens of similar “zones” across Australia.

This momentum is unstoppable.

But to ensure these investments generate local jobs quickly and ensure lasting prosperity, Australia should aspire not just to a renewable energy future, but a community energy future.

Community energy is where everyday people are empowered to develop, own and benefit from their own renewable energy projects.

Research shows us that involving communities in renewable energy is the best way to maximise local jobs and lasting benefits.

In my patch of North East Victoria, communities are developing mini-grids and community batteries to access cheap, local power, and secure energy supply for bushfire-prone towns.

Visionary local councils are pioneering this work – Shepparton council is developing a new solar farm that will power 10,000 local homes in collaboration with a local community energy group. The project will lower local energy prices and keep profits in town.

And in an Australian-first, the Sapphire Wind Farm in New England will be part-owned by the local community thanks to a $7.4m co-investment made by locals. The massive new project will deliver a six per cent return to these everyday investors, meaning renewables will become a massive export industry for the region for years to come.

In each case, putting communities in the driving seat ensures the renewable boom happens with and for us – not to us.

Shovel-ready investments in renewable energy could create 15,000 jobs over the next three years, mostly in the regions. It’s time to be bold, seize this opportunity, and put communities at the centre.

On August 19, I will be making this pitch for community-led renewables to hundreds of local governments around Australia at the Cities Power Partnership’s Re-energise Australia event.

Because regional Australia is hungry for a practical plan of action to secure a generation of prosperity. A community-led renewables boom is precisely that plan.

[August 17, 2020]

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