Federation Chamber

Private Member’s Business

Australia’s future is renewable. And renewables will be built almost entirely in regional Australia.

These are not political statements, they’re the sober findings of the engineers at the Australian Energy Market Operator who have mapped out a technical blueprint – the Integrated Systems Plan – for Australia’s electricity needs over the next 20 years.

Their plan shows that over that time frame, over 60 per cent of our coal fleet will reach the end of its life and retire, break down.

And because renewables, even when you add the cost of storage, are cheaper than fossil fuels, these coal stations will be replaced by solar and wind.

In fact by 2040, they estimate, over 80 per cent of our electricity capacity will be renewable.

And they have mapped where those new renewable power stations will get built – the locations in the grid with the best resources, and the best grid connections.

And these renewable energy zones stretch right across regional Australia.

We are building a network of interconnected renewable power stations stretching in a sunbelt from Esperance in the west to Carpentaria in the north and everywhere in-between.

And this means big investment. In recent months, we’ve seen a $3 billion  proposal for a wind farm and battery near Burra South Australia, a $20 billion solar farm in the Northern Territory that would export energy to Singapore, and $38 billion of private interest in a slew of projects around Dubbo.

This investment in regional Australia is already starting to happen.

As we look for ways we can rebuild our regional economy from the crisis we are in, harnessing this 21st century goldrush for the benefit of everyday people, is one of our greatest opportunities. It’s right here, right now, and it is before us if we grasp it.

We need to make sure that people actually benefit from this boom.

Because those power stations will be selling electricity to the country and to the world.

Who owns them, and where that money goes, that matters.

And Australia’s experience with renewable energy so far underscores that new development does not inevitably benefit the local community.

In the past, some developers frankly ignored local communities. As we look ahead to the next phase, we can’t repeat those mistakes.

We have to involve community. The renewable boom is exciting – but it should happen with and for locals, not to locals.

We should aspire not just to a renewable energy future, but a community energy future.

Community energy is where everyday people develop, own or benefit from renewable energy.

Right now, all across Australia, there are over 100 communities already doing just that.

In Denmark in WA, the local community raised money to build their own windfarm which not only provides local, cheap power to town, but provides returns to the local investors, keeping money in the region instead of sending it off to some distant power company.

In New England in NSW, the Sapphire Wind Farm which powers 115,000 homes, was built with a $7.5 million of co-investment raised from local people who are now receiving dividends alongside the commercial developer.

And in my patch in Indi, Yea and Euroa are developing mini-grids to enable low-cost power sharing in their towns, Beechworth and Yackandandah are developing community batteries, Wodonga is putting solar on low-income housing and the locals in Benalla will soon receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in community investment from a series of new solar farms.

These examples – which are already happening – provide a model for how the benefits of renewables can best be captured for everyday Australians.

But it’s at this critical moment for our country, we need a plan to ensure every regional community can partake in this boom.

And over recent months, I have been working with communities across Australia on a plan to do just this.

To ensure that renewable energy not only creates local jobs, but sets us up for a generation of shared prosperity.

On  September 23, I will launch that plan. And I’d like to invite all Australians who want to see renewable energy drive a new era of prosperity for regional Australia to join me.

This multi-decade wave of investment is just starting to break – let’s find a way to surf it.

[August 24, 2020]

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