The creation of a new dedicated government agency could be crucial for establishing a viable market for community-owned renewable energy projects, a parliamentary inquiry has heard, with current funding agencies failing to fill a gap in funding support for smaller projects.
Independent MP Helen Haines has proposed the creation of the Australian Local Power Agency, which would be tasked with supporting the development of new community-owned renewable energy projects, as well as ensuring that new wind and solar projects deliver benefits to regional communities.
Haines introduced legislation that would establish the agency in February, which would see the new Australian Local Power Agency work alongside existing agencies like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
The Australian Local Power Agency Bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee for inquiry and a hearing heard from a number of key stakeholders on Friday.
Ahead of the hearing, Haines said the inquiry had already received a very strong positive response, with the independent MP saying that it demonstrated the significant interest in community ownership of renewable energy projects.
“The response to my office to the Local Power Plan has been overwhelming,” Dr Haines said.
“This shows the sheer size of the pent-up energy and enthusiasm across regional Australia to act on the golden economic opportunity in locally-owned renewables.”
“The high number, and the quality and depth of submissions, shows that regional Australians are already taking advantage of the renewable energy boom, and the Government needs to get behind them,” Dr Haines added.
The inquiry heard from a number of community energy groups, including Totally Renewable Yackandandah, Repower Shoalhaven, Hepburn Wind and SolarShare Canberra. The groups overwhelmingly backed the plan saying that the creation of a dedicated agency would help get new community-owned projects off the ground.
The non-profit organisation, Community Power Agency, which works to support community groups that want to develop their own community-owned renewable energy projects said that such projects had the potential to ensure the benefits of new wind and solar projects can benefit the regional communities where many are being built.
“As investment in renewable energy continues to boom, there is a unique opportunity to deliver jobs, savings and income to regional Australia,” director of the Community Power Agency, Dr Jarra Hicks, said.
“In addition to positive environmental impacts, community energy projects can create a range of local benefits such as local economic development, local procurement, returns on investment to local shareholders, increased energy affordability as well as a range of social outcomes stemming from active participation.”
“The ALPA Bill could magnify these outcomes 1,000-fold across the nation. While Australia has household level programs and programs targeting large projects and big industry, mid-scale, community-based sectors are the missing piece in Australia,” Dr Hicks added.
Hicks was one of several witnesses that told the inquiry on Friday said that a dedicated government agency focused on community owned energy projects would fill a gap that agencies like ARENA and the CEFC haven’t been able to fill.
Community energy groups trying to start new energy projects say ARENA and CEFC are not available to them, Dr Hicks says. ALPA would be able to tailor funding to their needs, she says.
— Helen Haines MP (@helenhainesindi) August 27, 2021
Groups complained that ARENA and the CEFC had generally avoided providing funding support for community projects because the individual projects represented too small an investment for the agencies that generally wanted to support much larger utility-scale projects.
Original Power, a community organisation focused on the development of clean energy projects in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, said that a dedicated agency would unlock new opportunities not currently available to many community groups.
“We really want to make sure that we’re part of this revolution, from household power to deal with energy insecurity, right through to community on projects which we believe ALPA could really help with,” director of Original Power, Karrina Nolan, told the committee.
“We really hope that ALPA could contribute to more projects right around the nation, and that can demonstrate what can happen with policy reform, but also resourcing that enables our remote regional communities to really see the benefits of renewable energy.”
The inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill will deliver a set of recommendations on the legislation, but Haines will need to win the support of at least some within the Coalition government for the bill to successfully pass the house of representatives.