Federal independent MP Helen Haines will introduce legislation to the federal parliament on Monday in a bid to establish a new, dedicated community power agency to support investment in new community owned renewable energy projects.
The Australian Local Power Agency Bill, to be tabled by Haines, would establish a new Australian Local Power Agency, a federal authority that would sit alongside other clean energy funding bodies like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
Haines told RenewEconomy that the legislation would target three core barriers to greater local and community ownership of renewable energy projects: supporting community organisations to conquer the technical challenges of creating a community owned project, providing financial support for the construction of medium-scale projects with community ownership models, and a requirement for large-scale projects to offer local communities the opportunities to take an ownership stake.
Through the proposed legislation, community ownership would become a feature of every new wind and solar projects built in Australia, and would require project developers to offer local residents the opportunity to take up to a 20 per cent ownership stake in the project.
The Australian Local Power Agency would be able to offer underwriting support for new community owned renewable energy projects, with an estimated budget of around $50 million per year for the next ten years.
According to Haines, the agency could leverage investment in new wind and solar projects at a ten-to-one ratio, suggesting it could support upwards of $4 billion of new clean energy investment over the next ten years.
Haines said that targeting such support to new wind and solar projects would be more appropriate than the Morrison government’s attempts to offer similar underwriting support to coal and gas projects.
“Right now, the Government is pushing through legislation to underwrite corporate-owned gas projects. My Bill would extend that same underwriting support to locally-owned renewables projects,” Haines said.
“If people in towns like Wangaratta and Benalla want to come together and invest in their own local solar farm which they own, then I think they should get the same support that the Government is giving to the big energy companies.”
Haines represents the regional Victorian electorate of Indi, which has been host to a number of community energy initiatives, including the community owned Indigo Power, which is establishing itself as an electricity supplier that facilitates the deployment of locally owned solar projects.
The proposed legislation has followed a process of significant consultation with community energy groups, and was developed out of the ‘Local Power Plan’, launched by the independent MP in September last year.
By supporting further investment in community owned renewable energy projects, Haines said she hopes the legislation will help local, and particularly regional, communities to benefit from the ongoing boom in renewable energy investment.
“We need to capture that investment boom – that is already raining down around us – to create a local renewables workforce, build up hundreds of small businesses that service this industry, and make sure that locals get to invest in these projects too,” Haines said.
“But sadly, this opportunity is slipping through our fingers because too many regional politicians in this place spend their time fighting the renewable tide instead of harnessing it.”
“The idea behind ALPA is simple: every electron generated in the regions should be money coming back into the pockets of everyday regional people. Every spin of a wind turbine and every drop of sunlight should be generating income that stays in our communities,” Haines added.
As a representative of a regional electorate, Haines said that it was disappointing that such a large portion of the federal Nationals caucus was pushing for the federal government to underwrite new fossil fuel projects. Haines singled out the Nationals for their efforts to resist support for renewable energy projects in regional areas.
“The National Party is really missing the story of renewables in the regions,” Haines told RenewEconomy. “We have the opportunity to create lasting prosperity in the regions. However, the opportunity to harness the opportunities for renewables is slipping by us.
“The National Party in particular should be the biggest renewables champions in the country – it is their constituents, people in the Mallee, in the Riverina, in New England, who stand to gain the most from renewables.”
During the last week of parliamentary sitting, a rebel group of Nationals members revealed they would move amendments to proposed Morrison government legislation, that seeks to establish a $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund, in an attempt to open up the fund to investments in new coal and nuclear energy projects.
The move has caused a rift in the Liberal-National coalition, with the government forced to delay debate on the bill while it works to resolve the issues caused by the National’s amendments.
However, Haines is confident of being able to bridge the political divide with her local power plan.
“In private conversations, members of both parties recognise that the trend towards renewables is unstoppable, and yet there is a deadlock right now on energy policy. I’m offering ALPA as an idea for both parties to consider as a way we might move forward on this vexed issue”.
Haines’ legislation will be seconded by fellow independent MP Zali Steggall, who has proposed her own legislation to establish a Climate Change Act, that would commit Australia to a zero emissions target, and establish an independent body to advise the government on how that target can be achieved.