While the major state political parties bicker over who loves coal the most ahead of the upcoming by-election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Upper Hunter, a group of local councils from the region has joined forces to procure up to 200GWh a year of renewable electricity supply for their combined operations.
In a new Request For Information tender, the Lake Macquarie, Central Coast, Upper Hunter, Maitland, Cessnock, Muswellbrook, and Mid-Coast councils have joined with Hunter Water to hear from electricity retailers and project developers with capacity to supply renewable electricity to the group.
“There’s no restriction on the type of renewable generation technology to be sourced, ideally we’d like to see a portfolio of new projects in regional NSW, including projects in the Hunter and/or Central Coast regions and surrounding Renewable Energy Zones,” the notice says.
“We are particularly excited to hear directly from Project Developers in the regions mentioned as well as Electricity Retailers that can act as energy partners.
“Retailer arrangements may incorporate behind-the-meter assets include electricity generation, smart electric vehicle charging and demand response e.g. battery or virtual power plant, within their portfolio.”
The notice says that following the initial RFI process, a formal tender process would be held later this year, to determine a retailer partner able to provide each participating organisation with an individual renewable power purchase agreement.
The banding together of the councils to use their combined purchasing power to attract renewable energy developers and off-take providers is an increasingly popular approach for local governments.
The City of Melbourne did so with great success in 2017, leading a consortium of 14 leading local universities, cultural institutions, corporations and Councils to buy a total of 88GWh that resulted in the development of the 80MW Crowlands wind farm near Ararat in Victoria.
The renewable energy buyers group of Hunter and Central Coast councils has extra significance, however, in that it represents a grass-roots shift to renewables coming from the heart of NSW coal country at a time when the state’s major political parties appear to believe that all the constituents of these seats want is more coal.
Certainly, this is the message we’re getting from the various party candidates for the seat for the Upper Hunter region, which came up for grabs following last month’s resignation by the former Nationals member Michael Johnson, following allegations of rape and inappropriate behaviour in parliament.
A by-election for the Upper Hunter – which has been a National Party stronghold for 90 years – has been set for May 22, and is considered to be a critical contest for the state, putting a spotlight on the energy policies of the major parties – which at this stage appears to be who can yell “coal” the loudest and with the most conviction.
Labor candidate Jeff Drayton is a coal miner and CFMEU official who has vowed to work “bloody hard” to stop people criticising coal miners.
The Nationals, meanwhile, reportedly created a website that suggested Drayton was against the coal industry. And the party’s new candidate, David Layzell, recently criticised Malcolm Turnbull’s views on coal – that there should be a moratorium on new mines – as “obsolete.”
“It’s easy for people in Sydney to talk about coal as an abstract thing, but those of us who live here know that every train full of Hunter Valley coal means food on the table and shoes on children’s feet,” he said.
One Nation NSW has fielded Singleton businessman Dale McNamara for the race, also a former coal miner and said to have the first priority of protecting coal jobs and give young people a strong future.
Greens candidate Sue Abbott appears to be the only candidate running on a platform of life after coal for the region, calling for the protection of the Upper Hunter’s air quality, farmland and water resources from further expansion of the coal industry.
“Politicians need to be honest about the future of fossil fuels, the key driver of climate change and extreme weather events,” she said.
Whether this is how voters feel remains to be seen, but it appears to be much more in line with the views and policies of local governments in the region.
As RenewEconomy reported in September of last year, seven out of 10 local governments in the Hunter Valley have signed up as members of Australia’s largest local government climate network, the Cities Power Partnership, including Upper Hunter Shire Council, Muswellbrook Shire and City of Newcastle.
The network of more than 129 councils from across the country, representing almost 11 million Australians, requires participating councils to make five action pledges in either renewable energy, efficiency, transport or working in partnership to tackle climate change.