Wombat munching grass in Tasmania grasslands

Tasmania Mapping Important Places in the North West REZ

The Tasmanian Government has just launched an interactive mapping tool to seek input from the community on where their “Important Places” are in the North West of the State. In December 2022 the Tasmanian Government announced that the North West region of the state would be the first region to be studied in detail and considered for being a Renewable Energy Zone (REZ). This collaborative mapping tool feeds into the state’s planning process for the REZ.

In a media statement made yesterday, Minister Barnett said “Community input is critical to understand the places where REZ may be best located and what communities expect in the way of benefits if they are to host a REZ”. He added that the mapping tool “allows community to contribute their local knowledge by identifying places that are important, whilst also identifying places where they think renewables may be best placed in the region”.

As state governments throughout the National Electricity Market progress planning and policy design to establish Renewable Energy Zones it is commendable to see the Tasmanian Government creating opportunities and using innovative engagement techniques for community participation early in the design phase. 

“We believe this is an Australian first, to see a participatory community mapping process where individuals can identify their own important places and have it feed into the REZ planning” said Ms Kim Mallee, from Community Power Agency.

Community Power Agency is passionate about enabling communities to be at the heart of the energy transition and to reap the benefits that this transformational change can bring. For this to occur and for the community’s voices to be heard, excellent engagement opportunities must be conducted early in the development process. Whether it is an individual project or a State REZ policy, the path to better social licence and understanding starts with good listening. 

We encourage everyone from North West Tasmania to get involved, spread the word and add your important places to the map”, Ms Mallee said. 

The “Mapping Important Places” engagement opportunity will be open for the month of July 2023 and is available here

2023 Budget: opportunity for fast transition, but community & environment should be at heart

Labor’s 2023 Federal Budget has delivered a few hits and a few misses from the perspective of the clean energy transition. 

In every context, Community Power Agency looks to the community experience of the 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 [1].    

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.   

[1] – Labor’s Budget is good for climate and renewables and great for the gas cartel 

From left, Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system (Photo: SHASA)

Federal budget short changes the bush by not backing community power hubs

From left, Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system (Photo: SHASA)
Community energy group SHASA upgraded Moruya Preschool to be a solar-powered and climate resilient haven for the community (from left, Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system. Photo: SHASA)

The Morrison Government’s 2022 Budget has missed a unique opportunity to address cost of living pressures hitting regional Australians with practically no budget measures that empower everyday communities to access the full benefits of the boom in renewables.

The Community Power Agency is calling on the Federal Government to get behind a people-powered renewal of regional areas devastated in recent years by floods, drought and bushfires – and now feeling the pinch from price increases.

Community Power Agency Director Kristy Walters said there are already 110 community energy groups lowering electricity bills and handing power back to locals as the national energy system surges towards a transition to renewable energy.

“We welcome the modest continuation of funding for regional and rural solar and wind powered microgrids. But regional communities are crying out for properly funded solutions to climate-fuelled natural disasters and high power prices,” Ms Walters said.

“We’re urging the government to establish 50 on-the-ground Community Power Hubs across regional Australia to unlock a wave of prosperity, innovation and resilience – it’s a vote winner.”

“People in towns all over Australia are rolling up their sleeves, sitting around a table and coming up with community energy projects that support local jobs, local power, local resilience. But the federal budget has delivered nothing to help them.”

The volunteer-led Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) has a track record of helping families and community organisations on the NSW south coast access cheaper and more reliable power offered by renewable energy.

“During the Black Summer bushfires families sheltered in the Moruya Preschool, which suffered from days of no power. We secured grant funding and donations to upgrade the preschool into a ‘climate haven’, fitted with solar panels, battery storage, HEPA filter for smoke, a back-up power source and fire-fighting equipment. In the first six months of getting solar and battery storage, the preschool never once drew power from the grid. Their $900 quarterly power bills are practically nothing,” said SHASA President Kathryn Maxwell.

With roughly a third of households locked out of owning their own rooftop solar system, they have their sights set on an ambitious project to build a community-owned solar farm.

“We’ve achieved a lot already, but it has taken blood, sweat and tears – all in our own spare time. A Community Power Hub in our area would help us level up our impact and take on mid-scale projects, like the community solar farm. It could also support new groups in our region to learn and build on the projects it took us years to achieve,” Ms Maxwell said.

“We know Community Power Hubs are an incredibly effective form of regional development. In Victoria’s initial two-year trial they generated $14.5 million value, a 13-1 leverage of government investment,” Ms Walters said.

In February, the Community Power Hub Barwon South-West assisted YMCA Geelong to install a 60kW rooftop solar array on their sports stadium, which will save them $14,000 a year on their power bills. The hub has set up a no-interest loan with YMCA, which will pay back the investment over five years using the power bill savings, and then be generating free electricity for the lifetime of the solar system, helping the organisation to keep costs low for the community.

“With the exception of Victoria, volunteer community energy groups have continued to go it alone, using their own smarts and skills to develop new, more localised ways of generating power. But the energy system wasn’t designed for community-owned power, so they face many hurdles along the way.

“With a renewables boom already sweeping through regional Australia, everyday communities are poised and motivated to participate – but without proper planning, they will miss out on the benefits,” Ms Walters said.

For more information, visit repowerourcommunities.org.au or contact xavier@cpagency.org.au

Regional pollies urged to back local power hubs for prosperous communities

Federal political hopefuls from regional Australia are being urged to support local Community Power Hubs to help build prosperity and resilience in the regions.

Community Power Agency (CPA) is making the call in the wake of parliament’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment failing to support the Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA) Bill after a 12-month inquiry.

The bill was introduced by independent MP for Indi Helen Haines, and was designed to empower everyday communities in regional Australia to access the full benefits of the boom in renewables.

Community Power Agency Director Dr Jarra Hicks said the bill had enormous support from around the country.

“We’re calling on all regional candidates for the federal election who want to build prosperity and resilience in the regions to back Community Power Hubs – it’s a vote winner,” he said.

A key part of the ALPA bill is establishing 50 Community Power Hubs across regional Australia. These Hubs would support communities to develop their own renewable energy projects through grants of up to $500,000 a year for five years, as well as new forms of financial support including loans1.

“We know Community Power Hubs are an incredibly effective investment in regional development. In Victoria’s two-year trial they generated $14.5 million value, a 13-1 leverage of government investment2.

“Australia’s entire coal power fleet will retire in 20 years – or sooner, if Origin Energy’s announcement that it’ll close the country’s largest coal power station in just 3 years’ time is any indication. 

“The vast bulk of our new renewable energy system is already beginning to be built in regional Australia. Everyday communities are poised and motivated to participate – but without proper planning, they will miss out on the benefits of this boom.”

The Committee’s report3 recognises that community energy can revitalise regional communities, and backs the need for on-the-ground Community Power Hubs in regional centres around the country to unlock hundreds more locally-owned renewable energy projects. 

“Yet they recommended the bill not pass. We mark the Committee’s report an F for failing regional communities,” Dr Hicks said

For more information contact CPA Community Campaigner Xavier Mayes on 0423 030 658.

1 Local Power Plan, 2020

2 Community Power Hubs Pilot Program final evaluation (pdf) Sustainability Victoria, 2019

3 Advisory report on the inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 and Australian Local Power Agency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, Australian Parliament Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, February 2022

Further reference: Dr Jarra Hicks’ speech at the Public hearing on the inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 and the Australian Local Power Agency (Consequential Amendment) Bill 2021, Australian Parliament Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, 27 August 2021

New campaign demands ‘Solar for All’ Australians

PRESS RELEASE – Tuesday, 8 October 2019.

A coalition of 20 community groups has launched a ‘Solar for All’ campaign calling on state governments to end solar lock-out and give all Australians access to safe and affordable energy.

More than one third of Australians are locked out of access to clean energy because they rent, live in apartments, have unsuitable rooftops, or cannot afford the upfront cost of solar panels.

The coalition, led by the Community Power Agency, is calling for policy and funding support for solutions to solar lockout, including solar gardens. These are centralised solar arrays that people can purchase a small share in; the electricity generated by these arrays is credited on consumers’ bills.

“Solar energy reduces people’s electricity bills and cuts climate pollution. Everyone deserves to access these benefits, regardless of their living arrangements or income levels,” said Nicky Ison, founder and co-director, Community Power Agency.

“Governments can easily fix this unfair situation in Australia by funding solar garden trials and solar rebates for low-income and locked-out households.

“These simple solutions can help state governments deliver lower costs of living, better physical and mental health, and meaningful action on climate change. There are no downsides to this,” said Ison.

Solar gardens are a proven concept. In the United States, 1.3GWs of solar gardens are operating across 40 states are saving communities hundreds of dollars per year, while reducing emissions.

Liuanga Palu, Marrickville renter and co-lead of Sydney Alliance’s Voices for Power campaign, said: “I keep my heater and air conditioning use to a minimum because electricity is just too expensive—you can imagine how miserable that is on a freezing winter day or a scorching summer one.”

“It’s frustrating to know that solar could cut my household bills by hundreds of dollars a year, but that I can’t tap into these benefits because I can’t afford the upfront costs or to buy a home yet.

“Climate change is making our summers hotter every year. I want my elected leaders to quickly support solar gardens and rebates, because we all deserve healthy and safe lives,” said Palu.

For interviews, contact Vaidehi Shah – 0452 290 082

About the Community Power Agency

Community Power Agency was founded in 2011 to drive a faster and fairer transition to clean energy. At the Community Power Agency, we believe that local, people-powered clean energy projects will bring lasting benefits to communities across Australia. We care about achieving a transition to clean energy that benefits everyone, regardless of where you live, or what you earn.

About Sydney Alliance

The Sydney Alliance is a diverse coalition of community organisations, religious organisations, unions and schools that uses the tools of community organising to make the city a better place to live. The idea of building a Sydney Alliance was first raised in May 2007, and by November that same year was financially supported by 13 organisations. The Alliance launched with 45 partner organisations on 15 September 2011.

Notes to editors:

  1. Quotes from other community groups / states below.
  2. Embeddable explainer video about solar gardens here.
  3. Images and footage of the launch will be uploaded into this Dropbox folder on Tuesday 8 Oct 2019
  4. Campaign webpage can be found at www.solarforall.org.au.
  5. The community groups that are part of the campaign coalition include:
  • 2040
  • Australian Energy Foundation
  • Australian Youth Climate Coalition
  • Better Renting
  • Coalition for Community Energy
  • Community Power Agency
  • Community Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimbi (COREM)
  • Enova
  • Environment Victoria
  • Hepburn Wind
  • Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney
  • Nature Conservation Council
  • Pingala
  • Renew
  • Repower Shoalhaven
  • Solar Citizens
  • Tenants Union of NSW
  • United Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
  • Uniting Communities
  • Voices for Power campaign of the Sydney Alliance
  • Zero Emissions Byron