On the world stage of COP26 in Glasgow, the first major international climate conference since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison proved about as popular as a cough and just as disruptive to the climactic moment.
Morrison’s reception was hardly a surprise and followed directly from the embarrassment of his belated net zero 2050 commitment, launched mere days previous. This is all to say that it is no secret the Coalition have been failing Australian citizens and, in particular, their rural constitutents.
I expected so much more from the Government today & like many people across regional Australia I've been left underwhelmed & disappointed. As the Member for Indi, I'll keep fighting for regional Australia to benefit from action on climate change. Even if the Government will not.
— Helen Haines MP (@helenhainesindi) October 26, 2021
Despite the Coalition’s efforts to convince rural communities of the evils of the energy transition, rural communities themselves are starting to cotton on to the fact that they could actually do very well out of it.
As an ABC report relayed recently, the farming town of Katanning in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt south-east of Perth, is just one of a growing number of rural communities in conservative Coalition territory setting itself progressive renewable energy targets.
Katanning, which has voted for Liberal or country parties at the state and federal level for over a century, is now beginning to see the light, which is to say, to see its golden opportunity to take advantage of its rich solar resources through a community energy program.
Katanning wants to become its own solar power plant, ensuring that the solar resources themselves would be community owned and therefore keeping the money spent on bills local. The program, which has the support of local businesses, people, council and even its state and federal MPs, is being spearheaded by Geoff Stade, a local farmer cum chairman of Katanning Energy, and based off the model set out by Indigo Power, a Victorian energy company which grew out of local community energy group Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY).
“We’re all about the economics of it and taking control of our own energy security,” Stade told the ABC, before adding, “I really haven’t come across too much hesitancy. They’re [townspeople] very pragmatic people and they can see how solar saves you money and makes steps towards energy security.” The idea is that Katanning solar system owners and residents own shares in the company and receive a dividend from any community generated energy sold.
Katanning Energy has already installed solar systems on 30 properties in the last month and looks to have made a full 200 installations (totalling 2,000 kWh) by the end of 2022.
Western Australian state-owned distribution corporation Western Power is no foe to community power either, most notable among its programs being its deployment of stand-alone power systems (SPS) to sure up remote communities and reduce transmission costs.
What is more, only last month 51 Western Australian local government associations entered a join renewable energy power purchase agreement (PPA) that will allow them to satisfy 100% of their electricity demand from the 222 MW Collgar Wind Farm in the state’s southeast as well as the 35.4 MW Albany and 79 MW Emu Downs wind farms.
Over east, Victoria is particular progressive on the community energy front, in part thanks to towns like Yackandandah and Indigo Power, but also due to state government programs like the Andrews Government’s Solar on Public Buildings Program.
This week Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio announced 50 new sites have had solar installed under the program, and a further 55 approved for installation in months to come.
“Our strong investment in renewable energy and solar energy systems is creating local jobs, reducing power bills and helping us achieve our ambitious emissions reduction targets,” said D’Ambrosio. “This is a terrific outcome for the community, the environment and our hardworking volunteer committees which are the backbone of small communities across Victoria.”
As mentioned above, Yackandandah is a real pioneer in the community energy space, and Indigo Power recently installed a community-scale battery. “We want to scope up a working model for community energy taht can be replicated wherever there’s interest,” Indigo Power’s general manager, Ben McGowan told ABC.
It’s fantastic to see communities around Australia, inspired by the Yackandandah Community Battery, deciding to take a community-owned approach to their energy production and storage.https://t.co/m95dY6XUPa
— Indigo Power (@indigopwr) November 8, 2021
The community-owned battery, known as “Yack01”, is a 274 kWh storage system (enough to power 30-40 homes a for a day) coupled with a 65 kW solar array installed atop the site of an old sawmill, and represents Yackandandah’s first step and pilot project for larger community-scale projects in the future. Originally TRY and Indigo raised $200,000 for a much smaller battery, but the Victorian government threw in an extra $171,000 to double the original system’s size.
Independent MP for the Victorian electorate of Indi (which includes Yackandandah) Helen Haines, proposed a bill to Parliament to underwrite and provide technical support to community renewable energy projects in regional areas, and mandate the opportunity for communities to buy into large-scale projects (such as is mandated in other countries, like Denmark).
A really powerful day of testimonies today at the parliamentary enquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency bill. TRY was proud to be able to contribute with others and advocate for the benefits of community energy to communities. Thanks @helenhainesindi for all your work! https://t.co/onrCQhtO1X
— Totally Renewable Yackandandah (@TotalRenewYack) August 27, 2021
Haines’ Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 (ALPA) first proposed to Parliament in February and still being inquired into, is a plan “to make sure that regional communities benefit from the huge boom in renewable energy that has already started.” If legislated, the bill would establish a $467 million Agency to support the development and investment of renewable energy projects in regional communities.
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