– Neville Mattick, Community Engagement Manager, Central-West Orana REZ, RE-Alliance.
Farmers, graziers and our regional communities have had plenty of reasons to be gloomy about the future over the past 15 years.
Worsening floods, fires and droughts, along with rising economic costs and turmoil have made it tough, but actually, I can only see future growth and prosperity for our regional communities, and I’m not the only one.
As a fourth generation grazier in New South Wales with a young family growing up on our family-run farm, I think about the future a lot. Lately, I have begun to see and hear optimism about the prospect of economic growth coming to our families and communities in regional Australia.
Australia is undergoing a historic energy shift to renewable energy sources.
Moving away from polluting coal, renewable energy in the form of cheap and abundant wind and solar has potential benefits, not only to end consumers, but to us, as members of communities that host the infrastructure.
These benefits can be in the form of local employment, a boost to the local economy and improved community infrastructure.
Of course, there are a number of questions and challenges along the way.
The first and most important to me as a farmer, is the potential impact of the operations on my farming business.
It is well recognised in many parts of the world that wind and solar projects are compatible with being built in farms and operating alongside agriculture.
Some solar farms in my region continue to successfully graze sheep underneath solar panels, with some graziers reporting faster grass growth and happier sheep due to the intermittent shade.
Similarly, wind farms typically occupy less than two percent of a farmer's land, so the remaining land continues to be used for grazing livestock.
Not to mention the additional benefit of diversifying the farming business and providing an additional source of income, which some farmers have referred to as drought proofing.
There are community-specific challenges like housing or labour shortages when renewable energy projects are built.
Community participation and collaboration between governments and industry is the key to understanding these challenges and finding solutions that benefit our communities.
If we, as proud rural communities, are present and heard in the process from day one, we can be in a position to make the most of the energy revolution.
Regional communities across Australia have already seen benefits in the form of employment, community development and infrastructure, sustainable farms and significant economic activity on the back of renewable energy developments.
These days, when I consider the future of regional Australia I feel more optimistic about my family’s and community’s future.
Neville Mattick is a New South Wales grazier and the Community Engagement Manager of the Central-West Orana REZ at RE-Alliance.