Communities lead governments on climate action

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The Morrison Government continues to stick its head in the sand on climate and energy, but communities are taking power into their own hands.

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The Morrison Government continues to stick its head in the sand, even after their drubbing on the climate challenge in the recent Wentworth by-election.

They have been dismissive of the most recent IPCC Report that emphasized the greater and faster impact of global warming to date, and the urgency of decisive action given the now significant risk that the world will exceed even the modest Paris target of 1.5 degrees of warming by 2050.

Morrison simply claims, against evidence that our emissions are still increasing, that Australia will achieve its Paris commitments “in a canter”.

The Morrison Government also ignores our role and responsibilities as the second largest exporter of fossil fuels (coal and LNG) in the world.

Also, perhaps most surprisingly, they continue to ignore the growing majority support for decisive, government led action on climate change in many, many polls and surveys of electoral opinion, with the most recent evidence suggesting some 80% of voters now want more reliance on renewables and less on fossil fuel fired power.

I have been involved with the energy issue since the late 1980s, and after some 30 years it is a national disgrace that we don’t yet have a national energy policy, or an effective transition strategy to meet even the meager Paris emissions reduction commitments. I argue that a government that doesn’t have a climate action plan forfeits the right to govern.

But, while our politicians are increasingly obsessed in playing their selfish political games – attempting to score short-term political points on each other and, where possible, to shift “blame” onto their opponents – individuals, businesses and communities are moving on rapidly in the transition to renewables, leaving our politicians far behind.

So much of the energy debate has been a “top down” approach, but there is a very significant movement from “the bottom up”.

Most debate and discussion has been directed to national energy policy, the national electricity grid, and the roles played by governments, AEMO/AER/Energy Security Board and other key institutions, and the Big 3 “gentailers”.

Yet there is also a lot happening, and significant progress is being made, at the level of individual households, businesses, and within communities.  They are providing the essential “leadership” in the vacuum created by the neglect by our politicians.

While it is well recognized that Australia now leads the world in terms of the installation of rooftop solar, there has been inadequate recognition of the significance of various community energy projects and processes.  These are many and varied, and being undertaken in many regions right across the country.

There are community-based solar and wind projects, with communities owning,  generating, storing, and sharing their own renewable energy. These projects are taking many forms from the traditional solar and wind “farms”, to “gardens”, mini-grids, virtual power plants, and various partnerships to generate, share, store, and trade energy to the benefit of many diverse communities.

The major community generationprojects include the Hepburn Wind Farm and the community investment in the Sapphire Wind Farm; Repower’s series of solar projects in the Shoalhaven; Lismore City Council’s Starfish Solar Initiatives; COREM’s Mullumbimby pumped hydro project; Totally Renewable Yackandandah community solar projects; and a host of others at various stages of development.

Enova Community Energy is a particularly interesting example as Australia’s first  – and still only – community owned energy retailer.

With its retail licence covering the entire national energy market (with present exception of Victoria), Enova exists to facilitate community generation projects and to make it possible for communities and regions to share and take control of both ends of the energy value chain in the same way the big 3 gentailers do: to keep more of the dollars currently leaving communities in both energy costs and retailing costs circulating in those communities.

Enova is presently undertaking a second round of capital raising to enable it to work with more communities and encourage more people to share in its ownership.

Some of Enova’s projects aimed at demonstrating the potential for regional self-sufficiency include the development of a new model for a “solar garden for renters” and, in partnership with its distributor, Essential Energy, the launch of a pilot microgrid, with storage, in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate.

Enova has recently announced a planned partnership with Border Trust, the Community Foundation for the Albury-Wodonga region, to create Border Community Energy (BCE), which will provide community-based electricity retailer services to the Albury-Wodonga region under its own BCE brand.

The bottom line is that these projects are providing communities with cheaper and more reliable power, the provision of which is largely under their control, and often with the opportunity to have a share in the ownership of the project, and therefore the potential for an additional investment return.

All this can best be summed up with the strong slogan Development, Decentralisation, and People Power.

John Hewson is a former leader of the Liberal Party. Hear also Enova chair Alison Crook in conversation on the Radio National Science Show.

The Enova crowd-funding page can be found here.

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