Byron Shire – in the northern rivers region of New South Wales – is aiming to become the first region in Australia to become “net zero emissions”, with a goal to reduce emissions from energy, transport, buildings, waste and land use to zero within 10 years.
The push by Byron mayor Simon Richardson means that Byron Bay will be the first town or council in Australia to adopt the master-plan created several years ago by the think tank Beyond Zero Emissions.
The idea is to dovetail the plan with other local initiatives, including a stream of community-based renewable energy developments, the creation of the country’s first community energy retailer, and the proliferation of rooftop solar at the household and business level.
Stephen Bygrave, the head of Beyond Zero Emissions, says it is clear that leadership on renewable energy will not happen at the federal level in Australia, and will have to occur from bottom up, rather than the top down approach.
“All revolutions start from the bottom up, and what is required is a revolution,” Bygrave told RenewEconomy. “Politicians will follow what action happens in the communities.” This, he noted, had been the case in Europe, particularly Germany and Denmark, where “people power” had driven the major uptake of renewable energy.
However, the plan in Byron shire is to push beyond the installation of renewable energy and will incorporate land use, retrofitting of buildings, waste and transport – including electric vehicles – into the plan.
Bygrave says his organisation’s research had shown that any building can be retrofitted to make it zero net energy, or zero emissions, but energy only accounts for half the emissions.
“The creation of net zero energy towns is fantastic, but it gets you half way there,” Bygrave told a news conference held at the beach-front of Byron Bay.
Still, Bygrave said energy would be a major focus, given the amount of solar in the community, the presence of 100 solar businesses and work on Northern Rivers Energy, the proposed community owned retailer which also hopes to create a blue-print that can be replicated elsewhere. There are also numerous other local initiatives, including one to make Mullumbimby 100 per cent renewable,
“If it is going to happen anywhere, it will happen here,” Bygrave said. “Every house can be net energy producer, not just a consumer. It is not some sort of mythological concept.”
Byron mayor Simon Richardson still has to take the concept to council, but this is expected to be ratified at a meeting next week. “Byron Bay is known for its progressive thinking and its sustainable practices, so it’s a great venue for this concept,” he said.
Richardson said the role of council would be to facilitate the developments. This could be through allocation of grants and some policy inititiaves. “I’m not going to have to twist too many arms on this. Our head has been ahead of our actions.”
Once agreed, a roadmap will be drawn up with community groups to put the plan into place.
Dr Rob Passey, from the Community-Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby (COREM), said the group was recently formed to make renewable energy options available to everyone, not just home-owners.
“There are a number of similar initiatives in the Byron area, and they fit perfectly with what Byron Council and BZE aim to do,” he said.
“The community in this area is very engaged with renewable energy and the benefits it provides. One thing’s for certain” he said, “there will be a lot of ‘on the ground’ support for moving to a zero emissions future”.
Patrick Halliday, the director of local solar installer Juno Energy, said the shire and its community are currently at the forefront of nationally significant renewable energy initiatives.
“With BZE and Council supporting a whole of shire approach, across all sectors, we are even stronger and even more able to lead Australia.,“ he said.
Even the hemp industry is on board. Paul Benhaim, director of Hemp Foods Australia, a local company, said the initiative was a “game changer.”