Plan to let all farmers invest in nearby renewable projects

Plan to let all farmers invest in nearby renewable projects

Politics
WEALTH SHARING: The bill would mean any large-scale renewable projects would have to offer farmers within a 30km radius the chance to invest. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

WEALTH SHARING: The bill would mean any large-scale renewable projects would have to offer farmers within a 30km radius the chance to invest. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

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Renewable energy developments would have to offer all nearby farmers the chance to invest in the project and share its revenue, under a new proposal.

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RENEWABLE energy developers would have to offer all nearby farmers the chance to invest in the project and share its revenue, under a new plan put forward to the government.

The proposal, developed by independent Indi MP Helen Haines, aims to fill the gap between where renewable projects are located and where the money produced goes.

The bill would establish the Australian Local Power Agency to support regional communities develop their own renewable projects and share in profits generated by the booming industry.

Ms Haines said renewable energy could deliver "dizzying wealth" to the regions, like the gold rush and wool boom before it, with modelling suggesting it could generate $4 billion for the regional economy.

"The idea behind ALPA is simple: every electron generated in the regions should be money coming back into the pockets of everyday regional people," Ms Haines said.

"Every spin of a wind turbine and every drop of sunlight should be generating income that stays in our communities."

The agency would work on three different levels. It would help fund small-scale community projects such as microgrids, community batteries or solar panels on social housing.

It would underwrite midscale projects, including partnerships between renewable companies and local councils or community groups.

For corporations establishing large-scale wind or solar, APLA would require the developers to offer 20 per cent of its value to anyone with a 30-kilometre radius the opportunity to invest in the project.

The majority of renewable projects will be built in the regions given the abundance of space, sunlight and wind, and will be surrounded by farmland.

"In Germany, farmers own 10 per cent of all renewable energy, and everyday people own another 30 per cent," Ms Haines said.

"If we had a system like that in Australia, that would be billions of dollars flowing straight into the pockets of people in regional Australia every year."

Crookwell, NSW, sheep farmer and Farmers for Climate Action chair Charlie Prell has hosted a wind farm on his property for the past five years.

Without the revenue they generate, he wouldn't have survived the drought.

"We wouldn't be here without them - we lived through the Millennium Drought with no wind turbines and we were virtually bankrupt at the end," Mr Prell said.

"Not only did it help us, we were able to keep two people employed throughout the drought. The financial and social benefits of [the turbines] was a game change."

Mr Prell said there was a lot of tension and debate about windfarms when they were first developed in his region more than a decade ago.

But more people would "buy in" if they were giving them the chance to be part of the project, he said.

"I often say we need to get as much as we possibly can from the renewable energy company and give to as many people as we can on the ground," Mr Prell said.

Central West NSW farmer Karin Stark, who founded the National Renewables in Agriculture Conference, installed 500-kilowatts of solar to power her pumps in 2018.

"This bill could be the game changer that we've been waiting for," Ms Stark said.

"Instead of the money leaving the community, it would stay within the local community, and go to local business, local employment. The benefits are shared widely and fairly."

Independent MP Zali Steggall supported the bill and urged regional members who complain about the lack of opportunities in the renewable transition to do the same.

"Forget you party ranks, here is the solution," Ms Steggall said.

Climate policy - and by extension renewable energy policy - has been a constant source of tension within the Nationals.

"This is a solution to the division going on within their own ranks," Ms Haines said.

"I'd be very happy if the Nationals took this and covered it in their logos. There is no reason in the world to be against this, it is concrete regional development."

Ms Haines has pitched the bill to politicians "of all stripes", including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Energy Minister.

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