NSW Minister for Energy Penny Sharpe today announced that consultation will soon begin on the corridor identifying possible placements for the transmission lines that will carry power from the New England Renewable Energy Zone to the Upper Hunter.
This preliminary study corridor for the transmission lines will be approximately 1km wide and will be refined as a result of community consultation undertaken by the NSW Government.
NSW’s EnergyCo is currently preparing a range of materials to distribute to communities in the region to help build an understanding of what this means for them. The New England Renewable Energy Zone was declared in December 2021 and will be an integral part of NSW’s transition to clean energy as aging coal fired power stations are retired.
“We’re keen to see the NSW Government roll out information about preliminary transmission corridors for the New England REZ and start this stage of the consultation process. We encourage people in the area to get involved – it’s a window of opportunity,” said Heidi McElnea, our Engagement Coordinator who is based in the New England region.
“Communities have an innate knowledge of their local area, and we all need to work together to find the best ways to balance planning, people and the environment, as well as the technical aspects,” Ms McElnea said.
We are working in the region to connect local people to the right information, building the capacity of locals to know what an excellent transition can look like. Community Power Agency does this through fostering collaboration, offering capacity building to local governments and community organisations and sharing expertise on community engagement, benefit sharing and local procurement.
There is an interactive map on the New England Renewable Energy Zone website, and it is expected to be updated with the proposed transmission corridor as early as June. That web address is https://caportal.com.au/energyco/rez
Labor’s 2023 Federal Budget has delivered a few hits and a few misses from the perspective of the clean energy transition.
Will communities be involved in the process and kept informed? Will local people experience benefits and opportunities, will their needs be considered alongside those of industry and government? Are rural and regional communities included, in the way that urban communities are? Will this contribute to a fairer and faster transition?
It is with these questions in mind that we have assessed the 2023-2024 Federal Budget. Read on to see our take on what works and what doesn’t.
We welcome the investment to support small businesses and households to ‘electrify everything’, and to improve energy efficiency.
This includes the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, which will provide:
$300 million (over forward estimates) for energy performance upgrades for social housing
$1 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for household energy upgrades in partnership with banks and other lenders to upgrade homes with battery-ready solar PV, modern appliances and other improvements
$36.7 million to expand and accelerate The National Energy Rating Scheme for existing homes, which will help to boost mandatory energy performance rental standards.
Additionally, the Small Business Energy Incentive will offer tax incentives for energy performance retrofits for small businesses, and ACT residents will be able to access concessional loans via the ACT sustainable Household Scheme to electrify or improve energy efficiency of their homes.
These investments provide long term reduction in bills for households, as well as protection from volatility in energy supply, in a way that one-off handouts cannot. It is great to see the Government recognising the benefit of this kind of support, that colleagues, such as the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), have been lobbying for in the lead up to the Budget delivery. With this investment also delivering significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it certainly is a win-win.
We welcome the funding for and legislation of the National Net Zero Authority. The budget includes $83.2 million towards establishing this new very needed body, which will provide oversight and guidance of our clean energy transformation.
The Net Zero Authority will:
Support workers in emissions-intensive sectors to access new employment, skills and support as the net zero transformation continues.
Coordinate programs and policies across government to support regions and communities to attract and take advantage of new clean energy industries and set those industries up for success.
Help investors and companies to engage with net zero transformation opportunities.
The Federal government has highlighted that First Nations groups, alongside industry, unions and state and territory governments will be key stakeholders in the delivery of the Authority’s ambitions. CPA welcomes this pivotal piece in the energy transition puzzle, maintaining that while there needs to be centralised oversight of transition, regional and community voices must also be heard.
We welcome the formal allocation of $12 billion, from the existing $20 billion investment in Rewiring the Nation to go towards transformational transmission projects. Investment in upgrading our transmission infrastructure is critical to our meeting net zero targets and should be done in a way that minimises potential impacts on biodiversity while involving community in the corridor placement.
The transmission investment includes:
$1 billion in Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation projects
$1.5 billion towards Renewable Energy Zones and offshore wind in Victoria
$4.7 billion to unlock critical transmission in New South Wales.
Through our continued work on the ground in regional host communities, in particular the New England region, we have learned that any large scale infrastructure development, be it transmission or renewables projects, must involve and benefit local communities. We continue to advocate for a fair and fast transition to renewables (which includes the necessary transmission) in ways that provide genuine means for locals to participate, have a say and receive tangible benefits.
It is disappointing to see funding measures in the budget which provide over $33 million public subsidies for the continued operation of fossil fuel industries; the world’s largest carbon emitters.
Also incredibly disappointing are the miniscule changes to the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT), which aims to limit the proportion of PRRT assessable income that can be offset by deductions to 90 percent. These projects can currently deduct their capital costs against their tax liabilities, which has resulted in PRRT returning no or little tax revenue from these projects despite generating superprofits ($63bn in 2022/23). The result of a 1% increased share to taxpayers in the words of Tim Buckley is “very pedestrian relative to the LNG export industry’s windfall war-profiteering and oversized contribution to Australian domestic energy price hyperinflation .
International experts agree that we need to rapidly scale down the use of fossil fuels, including gas, not just continue its ongoing operation, albeit with small improvements to decarbonisation attempts.
CPA supports budgetary measures which fast tracks Australia to be powered by 100% renewable energy, through processes that improve community involvement and participation in the energy transition.
By investing in energy efficiency in homes, the electrification of everything, a Net Zero Authority and transmission infrastructure, the government is making steps towards a more equitable renewable energy system. It’s a good start, and a workable platform on which non-profit organisations like CPA can contribute to a better energy future.
Over the past decade, regions across Australia have experienced weather events of increasing intensity and frequency. These weather events put pressure on our essential infrastructure such as gas, electricity and water. Climate extremes can also impact our social, economic and emotional wellbeing of communities. Communities who have their basic energy needs met will be better able to respond to these additional challenges. That is why the Community Power Agency has teamed up the Energy Innovation Cooperative to deliver a how-to guide on Resilient Energy Centres (RECs).
A REC is a building that has been equipped with a backup energy system so that it is energy independent in the case of a region being cut off from the main electricity grid. Possible functions of the RECs might be that it is a space for resilience planning and an energy resource for response and recovery. However, ultimately the local communities who are leading on the development of these centres should determine their use, in conjunction with key stakeholders. That way, RECs can be fit for purpose and meet the needs of the community. Importantly, RECs are not a place of refuge, emergency relief or a place of last resort. Those places are specific and managed by state and local authorities trained and resourced to operate them.
Key points of our how-to guide
We walk you through the a-z ofdeveloping a REC.
First things first, community engagement. A REC should be fit for purpose and reflect the needs and values of the community. Our guide walks you through the principles of community engagement and strategies to help garner community feedback, including sample survey questions.
How to identify potential locations for resilient energy centres Every community is different, so we point you in the direction of the people who can help you assess potential locations for a REC. In some cases, you might be able to utilise an existing facility. We detail some considerations that should be given such as accessibility, safety, building requirements and key questions to ask energy system installers.
How to establish an organisational structure Whether you’ve found a host, or you’re building from scratch, you will need to establish an organisational structure to manage the REC. This could be an existing organisation in the community. Or perhaps you might need to establish a new organisation. Our guide walks you through some of the most relevant considerations, such as; organisational structures, the pros and cons of registering with the Australian Charities and Not-forprofits Commission and how you can manage ongoing operations.
Tech support Locking in an installer as early as possible is key. As licensed electricians, they should be able to advise on what technologies or equipment is appropriate for your installation and suggest options for what to choose. Be sure to check out our guide to be across all the most common technologies that are relevant to RECs such as batteries, generators, and the electricity demand of different devices.
Case studies We explore case studies from the Upper Kiewa Valley in Victoria and the coastal town of Moruya and the Hawkesbury region in New South Wales. All REC developments should be approached on a case-by-case basis, and these examples illustrate how different they can be. Each case study explains the type of REC that was developed, funding, lessons learned during the process and community outcomes.
How to fund RECs There are commonly three stages of funding required: feasibility or early community engagement; capital expenditure and installation; and ongoing community activities and system maintenance. There are many different avenues to explore when trying to source this funding. Our guide explores common sources such as crowdfunding, philanthropy, government and private grants, and gifted equipment.
How to determine roles and enable organisations Developing a REC requires many different people and organisations taking on clear roles to contribute to the project’s development and success. Whilst the strength of RECs is that generally they are community led, staff and volunteers from other agencies are available for support, contacts and technical advice. Our guide can help you divide and conquer.
The Victorian government has announced a new program to pay landholders who host transmission lines on their properties.
Under the program, eligible landholders will receive a payment of $8,000 per kilometre, per year, for 25 years.
Community energy advocate, Community Power Agency, welcomed the news but called for more localised engagement around the payment plan along with a co-designed process for other supportive benefit sharing initiatives that are tailored to meet the needs of host communities.
“It’s a step in the right direction in that the Victorian Government is acknowledging that the community and the landholders really do have an important role to play in enabling this climate critical infrastructure”, Community Power Agency Director Kim Mallee said.
“But it is essential that the community has a genuine seat at the table when we’re designing these kinds of policies and the way that we roll out infrastructure like transmission lines for the energy transition.”
This framework follows in the footsteps of the NSW government who last year announced a payment plan of $200,000 per kilometre of new transmission infrastructure for landowners, paid out in annual installments over 20 years.
The Community Power Agency is helping community groups and local governments understand the various types of benefit sharing opportunities associated with the clean energy transition. This collaboration helps to create authentic engagement strategies that have community design at their core.
Labor’s first budget included a four year, $102.2m commitment to fund a ‘community solar banks program’ as part of their promised Powering Australia Plan.
But what is a community solar bank, and how can it help with Australia’s climate and energy challenges?
WHAT IS A SOLAR BANK?
More usually known as solar gardens, these projects offer householders the chance to buy or lease a plot in an off-site solar array, with the electricity generated from their plot sold into the grid and their portion then credited back onto participants’ electricity bills via a partnership with an energy retailer.
The concept has been adapted from the idea of a community vegetable garden, which allows those without a backyard to plant and grow fruit and vegetables in a shared plot of land. A solar garden, however, does not need to be tended by householders, meaning it can be located anywhere.
Solar gardens have been popular in Germany and in the US, with the fast growing American market seeing more than 200 MW of shared solar gardens already in operation.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Haystacks Solar Garden will build a 1.5MW solar array on 5 hectares in a paddock at a farming property in Grong Grong, one hour west of Wagga Wagga, which will be divided into 333 solar plots, each owned by an individual or nonprofit organisation.
As a form of community renewable energy, solar gardens like Haystacks are contributing to the end of fossil fuels in Australia. People with or without a roof can now choose to move away from fossil fuel generated sources of energy to solar power controlled by communities.
Renters, apartment dwellers, and people without access to a suitable roof – among the 30% of Australians currently locked out of solar – can all take part in a solar garden project. Solar gardens provide access to clean power for a diversity of households, paving the way for a fairer energy future.
Solar gardenscontribute to decentralising our electricity system by adding another mid-scale energy generation project to the grid. Doing so helps to increase energy reliability in regional areas while also providing income certainty to farmers hosting the infrastructure. Both these build community resilience against future climate crises.
Pilot projects like Haystacks Solar Garden are already up and running, with plots still available to householders and not for profit organisations before construction begins in the summer months.
As more solar gardens are proposed, advocates are calling for Labor to expand the existing Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) beyond homeowners for their own solar panels to allow these rebates for solar garden plots to households that rent, live in apartments or without a suitable roof for solar.
“Community energy projects such as solar gardens play a critical role in the transition to renewable energy not just in terms of megawatt capacity but also in a way that is socially inclusive, creates social licence and stimulates meaningful regional economic development. It’s an exciting model to be pioneering for Australia, which other countries have been enjoying for years.”
Kristy Walters, Community Power Agency Director
The Haystacks Solar Garden is being developed with grant support from the NSW Regional Community Energy Fund for Australia’s first large-scale Solar Garden along with Sydney based community energy group Pingala, solar developer Komo Energy and retailer Energy Locals.