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Labor says community renewables hubs to target “areas of most need”, create jobs

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Federal Labor has restated its policy commitment to bolster the development of community renewable energy projects in Australia, a plan it says will allow more regional and suburban communities to regain control of their power costs and supply.

Labor’s plan to create a network of Community Power Hubs to boost jobs and facilitate the installation of small-scale renewables projects was announced as part of its broader climate and clean energy policy in April.

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The proposed policy would provide $98.7 million toward the creation of up to ten Community Power Hubs in “the areas of most need,” to deal with the challenges of implementing renewable energy solutions.

In a statement released on Wednesday, however, the focus of the initiative was on the jobs this policy would create – perhaps in answer to the Coalition’s own election focus on “jobs and growth.”

“While the rest of the world added two million jobs in renewable energy over the last two years, Australia went backwards and lost over 2,000,” the statement from Labor lead Bill Shorten and climate spokesman Mark Butler.

“It is in everyone’s interest that confidence be restored, and that small-scale renewables be encouraged. Not just so that all Australians can have equal access to lower electricity bills, but also to secure jobs and lower carbon emissions for the economy as a whole,” it said.

Labor says that despite Australia’s world-leading form on rooftop solar installation, a significant proportion of households, including rental properties and public housing, have missed out due to difficulty of access.

To remedy this, Labor’s “Hubs” would work with local communities, providing legal and technical expertise on renewables as well as start-up funding.

The Hubs would also explore methods of finance for low-income earners and pensioners, including the use of council rate payments as contributions for projects.

The policy has already been welcomed by Australia’s community renewables sector, which argues that the rollout of community energy will play a key role in Australia’s transition to clean energy – as well as how the consumer benefits from it.

“The transition to 100 per cent renewables for Australia is inevitable,” said Nicky Ison – a senior researcher with the Institute of Sustainable Futures – in an interview with One Step Off The Grid in April.

“The question that remains is how quickly that will be done and how fairly that will be done, and community energy goes to the heart of both of those things.

“If you’ve got that social licence, that public buy-in, then government and business can move quickly” to enable the shift to renewable energy.”

Ison also argues that the nature of community energy enterprises – being socially motivated and based on disruptive business models – will serve to keep the public interest front of mind for policy makers and regulators, ensuring that the energy revolution benefits all parties, and not just the major industry players.  

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  • david_fta

    Genius idea – for one thing, “areas of most need” communities feel themselves locked out. Giving communities reasons to be hopeful – in particular, helping them help themselves – goes a long way to restoring what Australia is supposed to be about.

  • solarguy

    I would like to see the detail before I got too excited.

    • Ian

      I suspect Labour might mine sites like this for ideas for their energy policies so why not comment using your own take on a decent energy policy? As sort of reverse democracy we the people provide the policies and those in power get to vote on them!

      • Joachim

        I like your “Reverse Democracy” where we the people provide the policies and those in power get to vote on them! …. brilliant ….

  • Ian

    Regional communities with long and expensive access power lines would most benefit from islanding minigrids. The problem is how to do this with expensive battery storage. Solar and wind are nobrainers but batteries, that’s another thing. Many of these communities have access to geothermal resources especially in Queensland and of course there is the solar thermal option with salt storage. Hopefully labour will look at these factors and throw some ‘vote buying money’ from their budget war chest into this.

    Closer to Urban home, I hope they mean by ‘community hubs’ ,amongst other concepts, the idea of community solar allotments and gardens. This is primarily where solar can be generated using solar or wind or other renewable resource remotely from the point of consumption. An example could be a large urban roof space such as a community hall used as a solar garden where a number of flat dwelling households can install solar panels in allotments and off set their household power consumption with the power they generate on that roof. It could also mean a type of solar commonage where power is generated for the benefit of low income earners and pensioners at no generating cost to them. In stead of providing electricity subsidies to LIE&P’s to pay retail electricity costs, use the money to buy solar and give the power generated to those in need.

    • Jonathan Prendergast

      I don’t think the final solution has be done from Day 1. Create the Microgrid/Embedded Network with lots of local generation but continued grid connection at a single supply point. Continue to build local generation and add some storage over time and work towards independance and ability to island.

      • Ian

        Absolutely, I concur! Poles and wires to very remote places need expensive maintenance and new remote developments need electricity. These should be the target communities for funding to create reliable isolated minigrids. Urban areas have a different set of problems identified namely those that have no access to roof space at their domicile, either because they live in multi-dwelling buildings -flats , or, they rent. These can still share in distributed solar if they are allowed to own and generate solar power off site and use it to off-set their electricity usage- hence the idea of solar gardens. Some people are dirt poor and rely on hand-outs in the form of subsidies to purchase retail electricity. The idea of a solar commonage is to generate power off-site for them at no cost To them and off-set their electricity usage – this would be similar to the direct subsidy but the money would be cycled through solar installations first.

        • Jonathan Prendergast

          I think its a big opportunity, and there is a lot of funding around. Just takes someone to do it!

  • Jonathan Prendergast

    Great work by Nicky and the team to help push for such policies and get traction.

    A good idea to use it in areas of most need. And considering this may work best in regional communities, there will be many to choose from that would benefit from such economic development.