Dr HAINES (Indi) (10:04): Mr Speaker, today I am tabling a Bill that would place everyday regional Australians at the centre of the renewable energy transition that is already under way in our country.
The Bill before the House would establish the Australian Local Power Agency – ALPA.
The idea behind ALPA is simple.
Regional Australia should be home to the world’s best renewable energy industry. And we should harness the power of that industry to deliver a generation of prosperity for everyday regional Australians.
Like the goldrush before it, renewable energy could drive an economic boom in the regions.
But this time, we are sitting not on a goldmine but under one – with our famous blue skies raining an endless supply of energy upon us.
Like the wool boom, renewable energy could deliver dizzying wealth to rural communities, build up great regional cities, and train a generation of young people to work in well-paid, long-lasting jobs.
But this time, our path to prosperity is not riding the sheep’s back but sailing the prevailing winds and capturing the sun’s rays.
This Bill is about capturing this enormous potential of renewables, and making them work for regional Australia.
Right now, renewables are being developed at lightning pace right across our continent.
Last year, Australia installed 7 gigawatts of renewable energy – a record year.
That’s enough to replace the Hazelwood power station more than 4 times, enough to power 3.1 million homes.
And almost all of this was built in the regions.
This trend will continue.
As our coal stations age and retire, the engineers who run our electricity system, project that in 20 years, we could easily hit 80 per cent renewables, up from about 25 per cent today.
This could be fantastic news for the regions.
But it is true, that right now, regional communities too often fail to realise the full economic potential of renewables.
Renewables are creating jobs in the regions. But we could do so much more to train up young people to build solar panels and batteries locally, and to construct, operate and maintain renewable projects.
Renewables are driving investment in small businesses. But we could much more to build up an industry of small businesses in the regions supplying and supporting renewable energy projects.
As billions of dollars is being invested in regional renewables, we need to capture the investment boom, and transform it into a jobs boom, into a skills boom, and into a lasting income opportunity for everyday regional Australians.
The Government has two agencies dedicated to accelerating investment and deployment of renewables.
But it has no policies in place to make sure that the investment boom, that is already crashing around us, actually stands to benefit the communities in which renewables are being built.
As a result, the renewable opportunity risks slipping through our fingers.
With the Bill before us, the Australian Local Power Agency will fill that gap, and seize that opportunity.
ALPA would do three things to lift up regional Australia.
First, it would provide funding and technical support for everyday communities to develop their own small-scale renewable energy projects.
I can’t tell you how many people contact my office – residential aged care facilities, sporting clubs, schools, fire stations, councils – asking for advice on how they can put solar on their rooftop, or add a battery out back.
They’re looking to save money. Or make sure they can keep the lights in on a crisis.
And right now there’s nowhere I can point them.
Existing grant schemes are piecemeal and there’s never enough to go around. And these grassroots community organisations often lack the technical expertise to even know where to start.
ALPA would set up hubs in regional cities across Australia so there will always be someone to turn to to lend a hand.
This is not about subsidising one type of energy. This is about supporting community organisations.
In my electorate, it’s organisations like the Bonnie Doon Recreation Reserve, or the Walwa Bush Nursing Hospital, or Corryong College, all of whom in the last six months have installed solar and batteries.
There should be no rural school or health centre in Australia that can’t do the same thing. That’s what ALPA will do.
Secondly, ALPA would extend the Government’s energy underwriting scheme so that it supports locally-owned, renewable energy projects.
Increasingly in the regions, we are seeing communities developing their own solar and wind farms. Towns like Denmark in WA, or Majura in the ACT, or Manilla in NSW.
In each of these places, a few hundred locals get together to invest in a mid-size solar or wind farm.
In Denmark on the south coast of WA, the locals got together and built two wind turbines that provide half of the town’s energy. What’s more, it’s the local investors who earn money from that wind farm.
Instead of sending money out of the region every time you pay your power bill, that money stays local.
But right now these projects are incredibly hard to get off the ground.
The government has shown it is very happy to underwrite investments in energy.
But currently it is only the big energy companies that get to access that pubic underwriting.
This Bill would extend that same principle to renewable projects that are driven and owned by the local community.
If people in towns like Wangaratta and Benalla want to come together and invest in their own local solar farm, then I think they should get the same support that the government is giving to the big energy companies.
Finally, ALPA would implement a new requirement that any large renewable energy project in Australia offers the local community a chance to co-invest in that project.
If you are building a massive new solar or wind farm near Albury-Wodonga, then under this Bill, the residents of Albury-Wodonga would have a chance to come in on that investment, have a say in how it’s done.
In Germany, farmers own 10 per cent of all renewable energy, and everyday people own another 30 per cent.
If we had a system like that in Australia, that would be billions of dollars flowing straight into the pockets of people in regional Australia every year.
Imagine what that would mean for farmers in a drought, having a substantial income stream that pays off year after year.
And that’s what this Bill is about. It’s about saying that every electron generated in the regions should be money coming back into the pockets of everyday regional people.
Every spin of a wind turbine and every drop of sunlight should be generating income that stays in our communities
ALPA would sit alongside its sister agencies – ARENA and the CEFC – elevating regional Australia to the top tier of our policy-making.
The three agencies would work as a trinity to not only drive investment in a renewable future, but to make sure it leaves a lasting economic legacy for our communities.
And importantly, this Bill is not just for regional Australia, it is from regional Australia.
There are over 100 communities right across our country who are already developing their own renewable energy projects.
Thirteen of those groups are in my electorate of Indi.
A year ago, I invited some of those local experts to join me in a collaborative process to co-design what a national policy for community energy would look like.
The result of that was the Local Power Plan – a plan which recommended the creation of this new agency and its dedicated remit of locally-owned renewables.
Today in the gallery, I’m honoured to be joined by three of those people – Juliette Millbank, Matt Charles-Jones and Andrew Webb.
To you, to the entire Local Power Plan Expert Panel, to the hundreds of people across Indi and the many thousands across Australia working, often quietly, to drive a renewable future for regional Australia – this is your Bill.
And to every person out there in regional Australia who has looked at our national debate about climate change and renewables over the last decade and despaired at the lost opportunities, and yearned for a greater vision for the regions, this is your Bill too.
The renewable energy boom is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise the economy of regional Australia.
We must plan it right to make sure that it creates local jobs, lowers power costs, upskills local apprentices, and builds local energy security.
So many regional politicians ask how we can build the economy of regional Australia. Well if we can harness renewable energy properly then it could herald a new golden era from Esperance to Carpentaria and everywhere in between.
It’s time we in the regions stopped being passive recipients of the energy system, and started being active owners of it, with agency over our own power supply, our power costs, and the profits to be made.
That’s what this Bill is about.
That’s what an Australian Local Power Agency will do.
And I commend this Bill to the House.