Our hunch was right. The rural NSW town of Uralla has been revealed as the choice for what could well be Australia’s first zero net energy town (ZNET), in a joint announcement this morning from the NSW government and Starfish Enterprises, who developed the concept.
Uralla will now work with Moreland Energy Foundation – the Victorian NGO that won the tender to develop the ambitious project – to use local renewable energy resources, energy management and storage technologies to generate at least 100 per cent of the town’s energy needs.
The selection of Uralla ends a nearly six month-long search by the ZNET Consortium. (A call for tenders – inviting service providers to develop a blueprint and business case for the project – was issued in September.)
In the end it came down to a short-list of five New England towns: Uralla, Walcha, Manilla, Tenterfield and Bingara.
In an interview with RenewEconomy this morning, Uralla Shire Mayor Michael Pearce said being selected as the first town for the ZNET initiative was a huge buzz.
“It’s really exciting to have the eyes of NSW – the eyes of Australia, really – on us,” Pearce said. “It’s like being selected to represent Australia,” he added.
Indeed, as Adam Blakester – executive director of Starfish Enterprises and ZNET project director – has noted, the potential value of this model for Australia is significant – “particularly given how abundant its renewable energy resources are and how distributed our energy needs are,” he told RE in September.
Pearce says the Uralla Shire Council and its constituents (6,500 in the shire, 2,400 in the town) were already passionate about renewable energy – a factor he believes was key to getting the town over the line.
“A large amount of of households and businesses already have solar panels,” he told RE. “I would say the community is behind this effort 110 per cent.”
And local involvement was stressed as key to the project – woven throughout all aspects of energy supply and usage as well for investment, governance, employment and financial returns.
But Pearce says it’s not only about benefitting the community, but the positive impact this will have on the environment, too.
“People seem to want to push the issue of climate change out the door, but it’s a big key issue and it’s not going to go away until we deal with it.”
Pearce says that completion of the project might have a 7-10 year timeframe, and that the shire and Moreland Energy Foundation would take their time to work out the best renewable energy technologies to use – although he did suggest wind farms were on the agenda.
“We have a few areas in the shire that get some good windy days,” he said.
Otherwise, he adds, “the world is our oyster.”
According to NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, Leslie Williams, the first stage of the ZNET journey for Uralla will be about scoping out the feasibility, defining the mix of renewable energy sources required, and how it might be delivered.
“Total energy costs for a rural town with a population of 2500 are estimated to be $10-20m per year, Williams said in a joint media release on Thursday.
The NSW government will provide $105,000 through the Office of Environment and Heritage for a community Consortium for Moreland Energy Foundation to prepare a blueprint or business plan for the project, which is due by June next year.
Of course, Uralla isn’t the only town with 100 per cent renewables plan.
Lismore has one in place, and the Victorian towns of Yackandandah and Newstead are fostering similar ambitions.
There is also a group of councils in western NSW who want to co-operate on big solar developments, and the Sunshine Coast council is going ahead with its 15MW solar plant.
But Uralla has a good chance of becoming the first Australian town to achieve the goal, considering the planning that has gone into the ZNET initiative, and the depth of experience it has behind it.
The ZNET Consortium comprises 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.