Five towns in NSW have put their hands up to become the first zero net energy town (ZNET) in the state – and indeed the country.
The New England towns of Walcha, Manilla, Tenterfield, Uralla and Bingara all made applications to become a signature town of the 21st Century and a centre of green innovation.
The initiative – backed by the NSW state government – will see one of those towns develop a master plan to generate at least 100 per cent of their energy needs from renewable energy – through solar, wind, biomass, hydro or other, as well as energy efficient lighting and demand management. A total of 18 consultancies and engineering firms applied to help develop the plan.
Zero net energy towns are becoming common in Europe, but it is new for Australia, although rising electricity prices, soaring network costs, and rising gas prices are making it an increasingly compelling option.
This initiative is backed by the Institute for Rural Futures at the University of New England; the Office of Adam Marshall, Member for Northern Tablelands; the Regional Clean Energy Program of NSW Office of Environment & Heritage; and NSW Trade & Investment.
Adam Blakester, from Starfish Initiatives, which developed the concept and is co-ordinating the project, said the interest from the 18 engineering and consulting firms – many of them large firms – who prepared 50 page tender documents, highlighted the interest from the big end of town in technologies such as solar, load shedding, demand management, and other renewables.
It was also encouraging that many small towns had engaged a large part of their population – and community groups – into the idea. Blakester says that once a blueprint is developed for one of the towns, then these could be adapted for other towns in the region and elsewhere in Australia.
Walcha council mayor Janelle Archdale said one of council’s key objectives is to produce the amount of energy required for its community by alternate methods. Walcha was the first town to express its interest.
“The strategy to achieve this will be to establish with partners alternate renewable energy supplies that will exceed the energy needs of our community,” she told the Northern Advocate.
“This is an application that is supported by council in general through the community strategic plan,” council general manager Lotta Jackson told the Tenterfield Star.
“It is a very exciting project,” Manilla CWA president Michelle Eggins told the town’s local newspaper last week. “I feel it would be great for Manilla and our community is willing to get behind the project – making Manilla a great candidate.”
Manilla even succeeded in getting local member Barnaby Joyce, the Agriculture minister and deputy Nationals leader, to write a letter of support.
Manilla is the home town of Joyce’s wife Natalie, according to his website. Still, getting him to support such an initiative is quite an achievement, given that Joyce has previously lamented the “lemming-like desire to go renewables”.
“What is this insane lemming-like desire to go to renewables going to do to our economy?” Joyce told the Senate last year, before veering off into a rant about wind farms in every back garden, how they were expensive, didn’t work half the time, and will never replace coal, gas, hydro or nuclear.
Perhaps then can.