People living in regional Australia would be the big winners of an ambitious plan unveiled today by Helen Haines to drive a renewables-driven economic boom.
Under a Bill tabled by the Independent Member for Indi, a new Australian Local Power Agency – ALPA – would support regional communities to develop their own renewable projects and to partner with commercial developers to share in a slice of the sizeable profits being generated in renewables in regional Australia.
The proposal, seconded by fellow crossbencher Zali Steggall MP, comes as both major parties publicly grapple with the challenge of developing an energy policy that appeals to the regions.
Under Dr Haines’ plan, developers of new renewable energy projects would be required to offer 20 per cent of the value of their projects for local residents to invest in.
“In Germany, farmers own 10 per cent of all renewable energy, and everyday people own another 30 per cent,” she said.
“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.”
ALPA would also have the authority to extend the Government’s planned underwriting scheme to renewable projects that are majority community-owned.
“Right now, the Government is pushing through legislation to underwrite corporate-owned gas projects,” Dr Haines said.
“My bill would extend that same underwriting support to locally-owned renewables projects.
“If people in towns like Wangaratta and Benalla want to come together and invest in their own local solar farm which they own, then I think they should get the same support that the government is giving to the big energy companies.”
According to Dr Haines, although renewables are currently being developed in regional Australia at a rapid pace, local communities too often fail to see the full economic benefits of that investment in terms of local jobs, skills training, and local procurement.
“Last year, Australia installed a record amount of renewable energy, the equivalent of four Hazelwood power stations,” she said.
“Yet we have two agencies dedicated to accelerating that investment, but no policies in place to make sure that investment translates into economic benefits for regional communities.”
According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, Australia is likely to hit at least 80 per cent renewables across the next two decades.
“We need to capture that investment boom that’s already raining down around us – to create a local renewables workforce, build up hundreds of small businesses that service this industry, and make sure that locals get to invest in these projects too,” Dr Haines said.
“But sadly, this opportunity is slipping through our fingers because too many regional politicians in this place spend their time fighting the renewable tide instead of harnessing it.
“The National Party, in particular, should be the biggest renewables champions in the country – it’s people in the Mallee, Riverina and New England who stand to gain the most from renewables.
“The idea behind ALPA is simple: 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.”
Dr Haines said she had taken her plan to the Prime Minister, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, shadow minister for Climate Change and Energy, and both government and opposition backbenchers.
“In private conversations, members of both parties recognise that the trend towards renewables is unstoppable, and yet there is a deadlock right now on energy policy.
“I’m offering ALPA as an idea for both parties to consider as a way we might move forward on this vexed issue.”
Dr Haines called on all regional politicians to consider her proposed legislation and to put forward their own proposals for how to harness the economic potential of renewables for regional Australia.
“With smart policy and careful investment, we could have a string of 10,000 locally-owned renewable power stations stretching in sunbelt right across the country, bringing new jobs, new income and an endless supply of cheap, clean renewable power to the regions”.