We are really pleased to see the amount of attention this budget gives to regions, workers, First Nations people and community energy. We would like to see more support for communities in Renewable Energy Zones and especially support for housing.
Of course, we would also like to see a National Transition Authority with independent, regional offices to support workers, local-led planning and procurement opportunities to make sure local economies are getting the most out of the renewables boom.
Energy Industry Development for regions
It’s clear the Federal Government is taking leadership from the energy industry and state governments by allocating a significant amount of funding towards regional industrial development including manufacturing.
Powering the Regions Fund & National Reconstruction Fund
The Government will establish a $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund. There was very little detail about this fund in the budget, however it looks like we’ll see a plan for this before the end of this financial year.
An additional $3 billion out of the $15 billion National Reconstruction fund will “provide dedicated support to ensure regional Australia can harness the economic opportunities of decarbonisation, including hydrogen and clean energy manufacturing.“
It’s great to see the Federal Government get on the front foot, taking advantage of the opportunities to create new, clean industries including green manufacturing, especially in traditional coal regions.
We would like to see State and Federal governments extend the same approach to all Renewable Energy Zones, not only traditional coal regions.
What we want to see
We know that energy system changes can be challenging for regional communities, whether that is traditional coal regions or agricultural regions seeing increases in renewable energy infrastructure. We want to see the Federal Government commit to fully funding a National Transition Authority with independent, regional offices to support workers, local-led planning and procurement opportunities to make sure local economies are getting the most out of the renewables boom.
Support for First Nations people in the energy transition
We are stoked to see First Nations people prioritised in the budget as key partners in the energy transition. All renewable energy developments will take place on traditional First Nations land and Traditional Owners should be treated as primary stakehoders and have the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
First Nations Clean Energy Strategy
The Government has committed $5.5 million over 3 years to “co-design and commence implementation of a First Nations Clean Energy Strategy in partnership with First Nations communities.”
We look forward to seeing more about this and will advocate for the Government to open up further funding in future budgets for implementation. We take leadership from the First Nations Clean Energy Network who are fostering opportunities for First Nations participation and benefits in the transition.
First Nations Community Microgrids
Remote First Nations communities have perhaps the most to gain from renewable microgrids. It’s great to see $84 million in funding over the next four years to deploy and develop microgrid technology across First Nations communities.
Support for Apprentices
There’s also a commitment to targeting New Energy Apprenticeship funding to First Nations applicants (more below)
Jobs & Training
There was a lot in the budget for those hoping to get a job in our quickly growing renewables industry, as well as measures to address skill shortages across regional Australia.
This includes establishing a new public institution, Jobs and skills Australia, which will
provide “national leadership and advice on Australia’s labour market, and skills and training needs”.
Support for apprentices
The Government will provide $95.6 million over 9 years to support 10,000 people to complete a New Energy Apprenticeship. The budget explains that “Eligible apprentices will be able to claim a New Energy Apprentice Support Payment of up to $10,000 over the duration of the apprenticeship, comprising $2,000 on commencement, $2,000 per year for up to 3 years, and $2,000 on completion. Additional in-training support places will be made available for all New Energy Apprentices, with extra support for targeted groups including First Nations peoples, mature age apprentices, regional and remote Australians, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.”
New Energy Skills Program
The budget also commits $9.6 million over 5 years to support Australia’s workforce to transition to a clean energy economy. The budget reads “This funding will support a new mentoring program to help train and support new energy apprentices, the development of fit-for-purpose training pathways, and a capacity study by Jobs and Skills Australia to evaluate Australia’s workforce needs to transition to a clean energy economy.”
Addressing skill shortages
We often hear from agricultural regions that skill shortages are of great concern, especially in Renewable Energy Zones where it is expected local skilled workers may find opportunity to work on renewable energy projects rather than servicing local households, business and farms. We’re happy to hear the government is also thinking about this problem and earmarked a significant sum of money aiming to address this.
The Government plans to provide $922 million over 5 years via Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) system. This includes:
- $872 million over 5 years for 480,000 fee-free TAFE places in industries and regions with skills shortages
- $50 million for a TAFE Technology Fund to modernise TAFE facilities across Australia.
We welcome all of these measures, however would note that attracting new apprentices and workers to the places we need will require more than subsidised courses. Addressing housing shortages in Renewable Energy Zones will be essential to attract apprentices and skilled workers for the long term.
The Government will establish a new Rewiring the Nation Office within the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. This Office will allocate $20 billion in concessional financing to modernise our electricity grid and make sure it’s ready for 100% renewables. This is fantastic news, as transmission lines are currently the biggest barrier to reaching greater levels of renewable energy in Australia.
The Rewiring the Nation Office will also lead much-needed reform projects to make sure our grid planning process is up to scratch for the scale of the changes happening in the transition. This includes reforming the Regulatory Investment Test for Transmission (RIT-T). The Office will also review the “AEMO Integrated System Plan and transmission frameworks in other jurisdictions, to improve the effectiveness of energy system planning for the transition of the electricity market away from fossil fuels”.
The Australian Energy Market Operator will serve as a technical advisor to the Rewiring the Nation Office and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will act as the financing arm for the program.
We would like to see more for regions hosting transmission lines in future budgets:
Expenditure, not just concessional finance for the Rewiring the Nation fund to enable the Government to do the following:
- Cover at least a portion of transmission costs to protect electricity bills
- Ensure projects compensate neighbour landholders impacted by visual amenity of new transmission lines
- Ensure projects contribute to local community benefit funding that could be used for local resilience projects.
- More extensive community consultation for transmission lines including a stipend for landholders in transmission line study corridors for the work of engaging in the planning of the transmission line.
- Develop a national Distribution Network Plan that will enable more households and farms to export small and medium scale renewable electricity to the grid, generating income and providing energy to their communities.
Community scale energy
There were some great measures in the budget for communities and small businesses wanting to access cleaner and more efficient energy:
- $62.6 million for Energy Efficiency Grants for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises
- $224.3 million over 4 years to deploy 400 community batteries to lower bills, cut emissions and reduce pressure on the grid by allowing households to store and use excess power they produce.
- $102.2 million over 4 years to establish a Community Solar Banks program for the deployment of community-scale solar and clean energy technologies. Funding will improve access to clean energy technologies in regional communities, social housing, apartments, rental accommodation, and households that are traditionally unable to access rooftop solar.
These are great measures on their own. We would like to see additional community scale funding targeted to communities in Renewable Energy Zones, who will host the majority of our large scale renewable energy infrastructure.
We were disappointed to see that while the Government was saying the right things about addressing housing, most measures announced to actually improve housing affordability were not significant. There was nothing in this budget to support regional renters who are hardest hit by regional housing shortages. These shortages are likely to be more deeply felt in Renewable Energy Zones which will see an influx of workers in the next few years.
We want to see State, Federal and Local Governments work together on locally appropriate measures to ensure industry growth in Renewable Energy Zones doesn’t inadvertently place renters in financial hardship.
If you want to have a look through yourself, the Budget papers can be found here.