Dr HAINES (Indi) (12:39): I thank the member for Mackellar for this motion and a good follow-on from me, because when I’m reminded that Australians have the highest uptake of household power in the world I am very proud of this country. This proves the appetite of Australians to do their bit on renewables. But the government must also do its bit, and I’m not alone in feeling like it let down its side of the bargain in the budget last night.
Overall, this budget was a missed opportunity for the government when it came to renewable energy, with an exception. As a supporter of green hydrogen, I’m thrilled that Wodonga was chosen by ARENA as one of the three sites for Australia in the construction of a green-hydrogen plant. This is a great step forward for weaning approximately 40,000 connections in Albury-Wodonga off fossil fuels. Some government statements were made about the project that are not entirely accurate, though. It’s not, for example, the equal largest electrolyser in the world. At 10 megawatts, it will be half the size of the hydrogen electrolysers with 20- to 25-megawatt capacities in France, Germany and Japan. But I put this down to excitement over the project, which is, indeed, a very exciting project, and I’m thrilled about it. This hydrogen project is a fantastic start, but we also need to do much more for renewables in regional Australia that don’t include the risks inherent in projects like this, such as the potential for offshoring profits.
The member for Mackellar has claimed in his motion that Australia is a renewable energy powerhouse, but who and what part of Australia is he talking about? We represent very different places and very different people. Whenever I step into this place, I am thinking, talking and advocating for the residents of rural and regional areas—people like the people of Indi. Without more visionary intervention, the opportunities and benefits of renewable energy will be spread unevenly. More likely than not, regional Australia will miss out. But there is another way, and that’s my plan for a renewables driven economic boom so that regional Australians are the big winners.
I want to share an example of regional people seeing real benefits from renewable energy. Last Thursday I was in Benalla to cut the ribbon on Munro Avenue Kindergarten’s new solar installation. This is the first action under Renewable Energy Banalla’s Community Energy Project, and this project will fund energy savings on community facilities which will be paid forward onto the next project. Standing alongside me were members of the community; members of the council; the community group itself; representatives from FRV Winton Solar Farm, who are producing the solar energy; solar panel installers Solargain; and, of course, those gorgeous little kindergarten children. This project demonstrates how small-scale renewables can help regional people save money so our kindergartens can get on with the job of taking care of our kids and spending less on power.
My bill, the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021, would deliver $310 million worth of grants to similar projects right across regional Australia and real investment into regional communities to lower our electricity bills with cheap local power. If my agency were established, community ownership would become a feature of every new wind and solar project built in Australia. Project developers would need to offer local residents the opportunity to take up to a 20 per cent ownership stake in the project. The agency would also underwrite new midscale community owned renewable energy projects.
There are government members of both Liberal and National Party persuasions who like what they see in my Australian Local Power Agency. Like me, they see billions of energy dollars draining out of their regions offshore or to the cities. They understand what a difference it would make if the money stayed local. To our regional prosperity and to economic and energy security. It’s not ideological; it’s really just common sense. It’s actually regional development.
My fellow MPs want to see regional Australia at the front of the renewable energy boom. The tragedy is that they can only express this sentiment behind closed doors, or at least that’s how they feel. What I’m saying to them and to the government is that this is your moment. Get on board or get left behind, and leave the supporters in the regions behind too if you do that. I’ve taken my plan to the Prime Minister, every single parliamentarian has received a copy of the plan, and my Australian Local Power Agency Bill is going before a parliamentary committee later this year. This is your opportunity. It doesn’t matter if it’s badged blue, red, orange or gold; I don’t care. This is good policy, and it will make a difference. I urge the government to adopt it and truly make Australia the renewables powerhouse it should be.