On the ground in the New England Renewable Energy Zone: mid-year wrap

In January, our New England Renewable Energy Zone (NEREZ) team received a boost with the recruitment of Heidi McElnea as Engagement Coordinator. Heidi lives within the New England REZ, and she’s been building local connections, facilitating information flow and working on strategies to increase local participation in the renewable energy transition since her role got underway.

We’ve been continuing our collaboration with community groups for support, connection and capacity building.

In March we hosted a community energy information evening with ZNET Uralla and local solar energy company Meralli. The focus of the evening was to walk though different models of community owned energy models and consider the opportunities of co-designing projects with developers. Kim gave an overview of the Haystacks Solar Garden project, a cooperative arrangement that Community Power Agency is facilitating which enables people to purchase a solar garden plot. 

We worked with the UNE’s Smart Region Incubator on an Energy Roundtable and Innovation Challenge. Both were very successful, with lots of strategies developed at the Roundtable, and some new start-up enterprises with a renewable energy focus that grew from the Innovation Challenge. 

CPA Director Kim Mallee with Kate Hook, Community Engagement Manager for RE-Alliance and Heidi McElnea, CPA Engagement Coordinator.

Councils play a significant role in the renewable energy transition, and we’ve been meeting with Mayors and senior staff to co-design a joint council capacity building workshop which we will hold in August. 

Other work has included an initial gap analysis of workforce training, employment and procurement, and taking a proactive role in information sharing with media and stakeholders. We strongly advocate for the importance of community participation in the current consultation around preliminary transmission line corridors at every chance we get. It is exciting to see the transition unfolding in the region and all the possibilities these activities brings to regions. Over the next few months we will continue our work on the ground to improve the social outcomes for communities in the NEREZ.

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 

Silver Linings – Autumn Newsletter

As autumn starts to cool into winter and we progress into what feels like months working from home, I’ve noticed a few silver linings.

While the transition to online events makes for less rich and personal connections it does mean many more people can join in the conversation from right across Australia.
(It also means I get to sleep in as I’m not commuting in Sydney!)

Three events coming up for the community energy enthusiasts among you:

  • Have your say on the National Community Energy Plan
  • Gippsland Smart Future Webinar Series
  • Community-scale batteries webinar

Details on how to participate in each are below.

Here’s to using the disruption of COVID19 to build a better future!

Take care,
Kristy & the whole CPAgency team

Helen Haines launches National Community Energy Plan

Independent MP for Indi in Victoria Helen Haines recently launched a National Community Energy Plan – and she wants you and community energy groups across Australia to co-design it.

We know that Australia could be a renewable energy superpower and community energy has significant potential to deliver real benefits particularly to regional Australia creating jobs, income and opportunities.

But it won’t happen without a plan, that’s why we’re supporting Helen Haines and her team to co-design a plan with community energy advocates across Australia.

Have a read of the discussion paper and make a submission.

Participate in the upcoming workshops on:
– Friday 22nd May at 12pm
– Wednesday 3rd June 7pm

Details for submissions and workshops in the Have Your Say Section on the plan website.

Gippsland Smart Future Webinar Series

Thanks to COVID19 what was going to be an in person event has turned into a free webinar series so it’s open to all. Tune in to hear what’s happening in Victoria’s Gippsland region on renewable energy.

Topics include:

  • Local Community Energy Hubs (20th May)
  • Township Models of Community Energy (3rd June)
  • Financing Community Energy Solutions (17th June)
  • Community Energy for Sporting Clubs (1st July)
  • Home Energy Solutions (15th July)

For more information and to register head to their website

Community Scale Batteries webinar

The Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program at ANU is doing some timely research on community batteries and they are now teaming up with the Energy Security Board, AusGrid and Total Environment Centre to run a webinar on their findings.
They pose the research questions: What is the potential for community-scale batteries and what is holding us back from these projects taking off.

Find out more in this webinar next week.

Thursday 21st May 9:30am-11am
Register and details here

– Until next time, the Community Power Agency team:

Fran, Tom, Elizabeth, Ella, Kristy and Kim