A parliamentary committee will undertake an inquiry into an independent MP’s plan to support community-owned clean energy projects in regional Australia, and it could be a plan that even Barnaby Joyce can back.
New legislation is being proposed by independent MP for Indi, Helen Haines, and has been referred to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy for consideration.
The legislation would establish a new federal government entity, the Australian Local Power Agency, modelled off the existing Australian Renewable Energy Agency, that would be tasked with providing financial support and guidance to community-led energy projects.
The agency is part of a larger plan to increase community ownership in new clean energy projects and would be paired with a mandate for all new large-scale clean energy developments to offer an ownership stake in the project to members of the local community.
Through the proposed legislation, community ownership would become a feature of every new wind and solar project 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.
With an additional $467 million support package, the proposed Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA) would offer underwriting support for new community owned renewable energy projects, with an estimated budget of around $50 million per year for ten years.
The agency would provide grants or loans to those seeking to establish ‘Local Power Hubs’ in regional parts of Australia, with grants of up to $500,000 a year for five years.
The committee has opened a process of public consultation on the proposed legislation and is accepting submissions from interested parties until 9 July, with a public hearing expected to be held sometime in August.
Canberra-based community solar project developer, SolarShare, has welcomed the opportunity to provide input on the proposed legislation.
“Helen Haines has been one of the biggest supporters of community energy and renewables in the federal parliament. It would be great to see a deluge of supportive submissions for the Australian Local Power Agency Bill. Distributed generation and community-owned assets are a huge growth opportunity, which would be turbocharged by Helen’s Local Power Plan,” non-executive director of SolarShare, David Maywald, told RenewEconomy.
“The Local Power Plan offers huge benefits for regional communities and our environment. It would massively boost the nascent sector of community-owned renewables. Hopefully this inquiry by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy will receive a clear message: people want more renewables, they want cheaper electricity, and they want the energy transition to generate local jobs.”
Haines urged those with an interest in the development community led and owned energy projects in Australia to participate in the inquiry process, saying it represented a significant step forward for sharing the benefits of clean energy projects with those in regional areas.
“Over 100 people and organisations made submissions to the development of my Local Power Plan, which formed the basis of my ALPA bills. I’d like to see over 100 submissions to this inquiry to show the government that regional Australia is serious about the potential of renewable energy,” Haines said.
“In regional Australia, renewables are being built at lightning pace, but we’re not seeing enough local jobs, we’re not seeing enough local procurement, and we’re seeing all the profits flow to the cities, rather than staying here where they are generated.”
“The idea behind ALPA is simple: every electron generated in the regions should be money coming back into the pockets of everyday regional people, not going offshore. Every spin of a wind turbine and every drop of sunlight should be generating income that stays in our communities,” Haines added.
Haines pointed to the benefits generated by a community energy program run by the Victorian government, which found that state government support for the development of new community owned generators delivered $13 in benefits for every $1 spent by the government.
Haines added that the newly re-installed leader of the Nationals Party, Barnaby Joyce, indicated that the proposal for a dedicated federal agency to support community energy projects could win his support.
“Yesterday, I met with the new Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and told him my plan should be adopted as Nationals party policy as it was good for farmers and good for regional Australians,” Haines said last week.
“I followed this with meetings with the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud and Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor,” Haines added.
“What I’m saying to them is that this is their opportunity. I’m urging them to support ALPA and truly make Australia the renewables powerhouse it should be.”
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