Solar dreaming in Broome, WA Recovery Plan for Kimberley revealed


The future of the Australian continent does not need to be a future of lonely crowded cities with rental prices that would make a New Yorker spit out their bagel. We are a nation with a continent over which we can spread ourselves lightly as Vegemite, and perhaps for the first time since British colonisation, this country has an opportunity to play to its innate renewable strengths, to that which sustains it, to its immediate sunshine and its ancient riches, and when Australia plays to its renewable strengths, all Australians, especially those in regional areas, can enjoy and profit from return to country and country renewal.

As the Stephen Pigram tune sung by Missy Higgins and Ernie Dingo from the musical Bran Neu Dae goes: “I feel like going back home / Right now while the mangos are ripe / Frangapani’s starting to bloom / And the blue bone are starting to bite / Hey mum I can just taste your fish soup and rice / I’m coming back home to you / Can’t hack the pace of the city life / Soon I’ll be dreaming in Broome”. 

Today, many in Broome will be dreaming of solar, and those dreams are close realities after the Western Australian Government released its $5.5 billion WA Recovery Plan earlier this week, a plan to combat the economic impacts of Covid-19 and, imperatively, to lay the basis, in the words of Sharyn O’Neill, WA’s State Recovery Controller, “for not only restarting and stimulating but also for reforming and transforming.” Today, a closer look at the regional focus of the plan, in particular, The Kimberley Recovery Plan (KRP). 

The Kimberley has great potential for the renewable energy and clean technology sector, hence why a significant proportion of the statewide $66.3 million renewable energy technologies boost is to be invested in WA’s remote northern regions. WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston said that this package would be giving regional Western Australians the chance “to enjoy the benefits of rooftop solar and improve power quality in their local communities.” 

Hence it is no surprise that one of the State’s recovery priorities is investing in renewable energy and new technologies, promising to “install more renewable energy and batteries on its networks and on State-owned assets, particularly for regional and remote communities, to improve reliability and help lower energy costs for residents and businesses.” 

The KRP recognises the great potential for renewable energy in the Kimberley region for the state, the nation, and perhaps most importantly, the region itself. For what economy could be more sustainable and salutary than a renewable one?

The KRP includes $10.3 million and $1.7 million toward the installation of energy storage systems (ESS) to facilitate the uptake of rooftop solar in Broome and Yungngora, respectively. In addition, the McGowan Government is funnelling $9.92 million for state-owned utility Horizon Power to install standalone power systems (SPS) throughout the state, of which the Kimberley is set to receive four. 

SPS are revolutionising WA’s energy landscape, and not simply because Covid-19 restrictions demand should all be standing alone anyway. Recently, the completion of a three-year trial to test the viability of SPS resulted in a resounding success, and regulators are heeding said results.

On top of this, $5.21 million is on its way to Derby for investment in renewable energy projects, including the uptake of solar PV on council edifices and a large-scale solar system and battery at Derby Health Campus. 

WA Premier Mark McGowan said “The Kimberley Recovery Plan will drive economic and social recovery in the region, to ensure it can recover stronger than ever.” 

“It will create a pipeline of short and long term jobs for locals,” continued McGowan, “and deliver huge improvements in local infrastructure and services.” 

Kimberley MLA Josie Farrer said the KRP provision of renewable energy options would ensure sustainable opportunities in the coming months and years. Moreover, with other KRP funding to deliver improvements in the health system, and training opportunities, the Kimberley is a region where the young can remain or perhaps even be attracted. 

The Green Recovery is a Regional Renaissance 

According to new economic modelling published by Accenture’s AlphaBeta and commissioned by the Climate Council, 76,000 clean jobs could be created nationwide over the next three years in a green economic recovery to the impacts of Covid-19. 

AlphaBeta’s “The Clean Jobs Plan” (Plan) sets out a dozen policy options which would accelerate sustainable job creation for, in the words of AlphaBeta Director, Andrew Charlton, “the people who need them most.” 

The Plan has been released on the back of a personal plea from Clean Energy Council (CEC) Chief Executive Kane Thornton to Canberra to allow the renewable energy industry to lead the Covid-19 economic recovery, and think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions’ (BZE) publication of its Million Jobs Report, in which a green scaffolded economic recovery which posits 1.8 million new jobs can be created through renewables and low emissions projects over the next five years, many of which would be created in rural and regional Australia. This latter Report already has strong support, including Mike Cannon-Brookes, Ross Garnaut, Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin McCann, and Christiana Figueres. 

Many of the young in remote parts of Western Australia like the Kimberley, find themselves heading to the South-West in search of more opportunities in the Big Smoke. But the flipside of crisis is opportunity, and the transition to a green economy, perhaps boosted by the necessity of economic stimulus brought on by Covid-19, not only promises to create new jobs in regional Australia, it promises to create more jobs in regional Australia than ever before. 

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