Regional Australia needs a renewables framework

Regional Australia needs a renewables framework

OPINION
News
Peter Mailler on his family's 4.8MWp Chillamurra solar farm.

Peter Mailler on his family's 4.8MWp Chillamurra solar farm.

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Opinion: Peter Mailler says that without a solid energy transition strategy regional Australians will miss out.

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Despite the optimistic forecast for a wetter winter in 2020, my grain and cattle farm near Goondiwindi remains firmly in the grips of drought. I am not alone.

As concerning as the situation is for myself, I am more concerned about what it means for my community.

Our town remains on water restrictions and over the past few years I have watched qualified people leave our community as many businesses shed staff and or close down.

In a world increasingly affected by extreme weather events like drought, flood or fire, driven by our changing climate, the pain of agricultural disruptions transfers quickly from farms to towns.

Agriculture is not as resilient as it used to be and many regional communities need a broader enterprise base to underpin their future.

In direct response to this agricultural decline, my family has diversified from a primarily agricultural focus to include a significant investment in renewables.

Our flagship project remains the 4.8MWp Chillamurra solar farm, built on my parent's property in 2017.

Chillamurra was constructed by my family without government subsidies.

It has exceeded production and income projections, reinforcing its commercial viability. It generates enough electricity to power about 2500 homes.

The construction also provided valuable local jobs and cash injection to the local economy during drought.

The project and related experience showcase a valuable opportunity that exists for regional communities through a decentralised electricity generation model for the national grid, based largely on renewables.

It is in this context that I constantly urge people and politicians to better consider the opportunities for our traditionally agricultural communities in the inevitable energy transition to renewables.

It is hard to comprehend the political resistance to the science of climate change and the already lived economic opportunity in renewables.

It is frustrating that much of the current investment in utility scale renewables by individuals and communities, is happening in spite of the government rather than because of it.

There is a huge opportunity for utility scale community oriented renewables projects to bring down power overall costs and improve the quality and reliability of power through a decentralised national grid.

Storage technologies that are effectively deployed can better meet dispatchable energy needs and local projects can provide a viable economic stimulus for and by regional communities.

All we need is a clear and sensible transition framework that is informed and supported by the available evidence, rather than being confounded by politics and vested interest.

It is more efficient for many regional centres to produce their electricity close to where it is consumed.

There is also an opportunity to convert renewable energy to hydrogen for use as a fuel and also as a precursor for nitrogenous fertilisers.

A competent regional energy strategy must incorporate both electricity generation and the potential of the emerging hydrogen economy to reinvigorate regional manufacturing and industrial development, providing much needed stimulus and diversification to regional centres.

Utility scale renewable energy generators below 10MW are more accessible for community investors and provide a sustainable method of capturing more dollars in the local economy.

Renewables are not the silver bullet in regards the many challenges facing our regional towns, but they do represent a critical opportunity that we can't afford to slip by.

The truth is that the energy sector will continue to transition to renewables. It is vital that there is a suitable framework in place that empowers regional communities to participate in and benefit directly from that transition.

Without a sensible energy transition strategy that purposefully supports greater local investment in a decentralised grid, regional Australians miss out.

- Peter Mailler is a Boggabilla farmer and a Farmers for Climate Action supporter

The story Regional Australia needs a renewables framework first appeared on Farm Online.

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