Skip navigation

We need to speed up the shift to renewables. There are opportunities, and risks, for regional communities

Andrew Bray, National Director, RE-Alliance.

Our current energy crisis has laid bare the risks we all face from our over-reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels like gas and coal.

To safeguard our grid against international price pressures we need to speed up our shift to cheaper, cleaner renewable energy.

The election of a new federal government creates a circuit breaker, with the federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen coming together with energy ministers from all states and territories, representing Labor, Liberal and Greens.

Their meeting last month was described as "a new era of cooperation" and saw them agree to develop a national transition plan away from fossil fuels.

The Albanese government has a mandate for its election promise to implement the $20 billion plan to "rewire the nation".

Additionally, NSW announced $1.2 billion in funding for renewable energy and new transmission lines, the single biggest such investment by a state or territory government.

So work is well underway.

For regional Australia, where much of this new infrastructure will be built, this presents great opportunities.

Some regional community leaders like Chris Sounness, executive director of the Wimmera Development Association in western Victoria, are turning their minds to how the renewables buildout can bring long-term careers and economic diversification to their communities.

He sees the opportunity for regional cities to position themselves for growing populations coming out of the construction boom.

For power consumers in the bush, just as for consumers in the cities, the development of new transmission lines will remove the biggest barrier to connecting greater levels of cheap solar and wind power to our homes, schools and workplaces.

But there are also risks. Overcoming these risks is very possible but it will require work, especially from government.

The first step is to acknowledge that building the amount of renewable energy infrastructure we need in the regions will mean changes for the communities that live there. It is important that these changes are well communicated and balanced against the benefits.

Local communities must be well informed and well supported to take part in decision-making processes that affect them.

Government bodies rolling out Renewable Energy Zones must be present on the ground with shopfronts and regular local newspaper appearances, providing reliable information.

All Australians will be beneficiaries of this infrastructure so it is critical that host communities are receiving a share of the value they are creating for all consumers. Making sure these communities are driving how this share is delivered will be crucial.

State and federal governments can assist by funding regional transition authorities.

These authorities employ local staff to coordinate planning, boost local procurement and training and ensure locals are supported to participate in planning processes.

The best Australian example is the Latrobe Valley Authority which has supported workers and communities in Victoria's coal region since 2016.

Renewable energy companies must acknowledge the cumulative impacts in renewable hotspots by working together with landholders and local councils to mitigate these and deliver relevant community benefit programs. Companies can also look for ways to work together, such as sharing transmission infrastructure - which has started occurring in Victoria.

Lastly, frameworks for First Nations participation and leadership need to be established and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples included in the renewable energy rollout.

There are many opportunities for regional Australia out of this transition, but delays and top-down approaches to planning will see communities miss out on opportunities and Australians continue to be left with a dirty and expensive power grid.

NB. This is an opinion piece that was featured in The Canberra Times on July 4, 2022. View the article online here.

Continue Reading

Read More

Join our email list