Monday, 22 February 2021
Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021; Second Reading
( I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Today I am tabling the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021. It would place everyday regional Australians at the centre of the renewable energy transition that is already underway across our nation. The bill before the House would establish the Australian Local Power Agency, ALPA. The idea behind ALPA is simple: regional Australia should be home to the world's best renewable energy industry, and we should harness the power of that industry to deliver a generation of prosperity for everyday regional Australians.
Like the gold rush before it, renewable energy could drive an economic boom in the regions. But this time we're not sitting on a goldmine; we're sitting under a goldmine, with our famous blue skies raining an endless supply of energy upon us. Like the wool boom, renewable energy could deliver dizzying wealth to rural communities, build up great regional cities and train a generation of young people to work in well-paid, long-lasting jobs. But this time our path to prosperity is not riding the sheep's back but sailing the prevailing winds and capturing the sun's rays. This bill is about capturing this enormous potential of renewables and making them work for regional Australia.
Right now, renewables are being developed at a lightning pace right across our continent. Last year Australia installed seven gigawatts of renewable energy—a record year. That's enough to replace the Hazelwood power station more than four times, enough to power 3.1 million homes. And almost all of this was built in the regions. That trend will continue. In 20 years we could easily hit 80 per cent renewables, up from 25 per cent today. This could be fantastic news for the regions. But it is true that right now regional communities too often fail to realise the full economic potential of renewables. Renewables are creating jobs in the regions, but we could do so much more to train up young people and build solar panels and batteries locally, and to construct, operate and maintain renewable projects. Renewables are driving investment in small business, but we could do so much more to build up an industry of small businesses in the regions, supplying and supporting renewable energy projects. As billions of dollars are being invested in regional renewables, we need to capture that investment boom and transform it into a jobs boom, into a skills boom and into a lasting income opportunity for everyday regional Australians.
The government has two agencies dedicated to accelerating investment and deployment of renewables, but it has no policies in place to make sure that the investment boom that's already crashing around us actually stands to benefit the communities in which renewables are built. As a result, the renewable opportunity risks simply slipping through our fingers. I don't want that to happen. With the bill before us, the Australian Local Power Agency will fill that gap and seize this opportunity.
ALPA would do three things to lift up regional Australia. First, it would provide funding and technical support for everyday communities to develop their own small-scale renewable projects. I can't tell you how many people contact my office—residential aged-care facilities, sporting clubs, schools, fire stations, councils—all asking for advice on how they can put solar on their rooftop or add a battery out the back. They're looking to save money or make sure they can keep the lights on in a crisis—a crisis like a bushfire. Right now, there is nowhere I can point them to. Existing grant schemes are piecemeal, and there is never enough to go around. These grassroots community organisations often lack the technical expertise to even know where to start.
ALPA would set up hubs in regional cities across Australia so that there will always be someone to turn to to lend a hand. This is not about subsidising one type of energy; this is about supporting community organisations. In my electorate it's organisations like the Bonnie Doon Recreation Reserve, or the Walwa Bush Nursing Centre, or Corryong College—all of whom have installed solar and batteries in the last six months. There should be no rural school or health centre in Australia that can't do the same thing. That's what ALPA will do.
Secondly, ALPA would extend the government's energy underwriting scheme so that it supports locally owned renewable energy projects. Increasingly in the regions we are seeing communities developing their own solar and wind farms—towns like Denmark in Western Australia, Majura in the ACT or Manilla in New South Wales. In each of these places, a few hundred locals get together to invest in a mid-sized solar or wind farm. In Denmark, on the south coast of Western Australia, the locals got together and built two wind turbines that provide half the town's energy. What's more, it's the local investors who earn money from that wind farm. Instead of sending money out of the region every time you pay your power bill, that money stays local. But, right now, these projects are incredibly hard to get off the ground. The government has shown that it's very happy to underwrite investments in energy, but, currently, it's only the big energy companies that get to access public underwriting. This bill would extend that same principle to renewable projects that are driven by, and owned by, the local community. If people in towns like Wangaratta and Benalla want to come together and invest in their own local solar farm, then I think they should get the same support that the government is giving to big energy companies.
Finally, ALPA would implement a new requirement that any large renewable energy project in Australia offers the local community a chance to co-invest in that project. If a company is building a massive solar or wind farm near Albury-Wodonga, then, under this bill, the residents of Albury-Wodonga would have a chance to come in on that investment and say how it's done. In Germany, farmers own 10 per cent of all renewable energy and everyday people own an additional 30 per cent. Just imagine! If we had a system like that in Australia, that would mean billions of dollars flowing straight into the pockets of people in regional Australia every year. Imagine what that would mean for farmers in a drought—having a substantial income stream that pays off year after year. That's what this bill is about. It's about saying that every electron generated in the regions should be money coming back into the pockets of everyday regional Australians. Every spin of a wind turbine and every drop of sunlight should be generating income that stays in our communities. ALPA would sit alongside its sister agencies, ARENA and the CEFC, elevating regional Australia to the top tier of policymaking. The three agencies would work as a trinity not only to drive investment in a renewable future but also to make sure it leaves a lasting economic legacy for our communities.
Importantly, this bill is not just for regional Australia; it's from regional Australia. There are a hundred communities right across our community who are already developing their own renewable energy projects. Of those groups, 13 are in my electorate of Indi. A year ago, I invited some of those local experts to join me in a collaborative process to co-design what a national policy for community energy would look like. The result of that was the Local Power Plan, a plan which recommended the creation of this new agency and its dedicated remit of locally owned renewables. Today, I'm honoured to be joined by three of those people, who are in the gallery: Juliette Milbank, Matt Charles-Jones and Andrew Webb. To you, to the entire local power plant expert panel, to the hundreds of people across Indi and the many thousands across Australia working, often quietly, to drive a renewable future for regional Australia: this is your bill. To every person out there in regional Australia who has looked at our national debate about climate change and renewables over the last decade and has despaired at the lost opportunities and yearned for a greater vision for the regions: this is your bill, too.
The renewable energy boom is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise the economy of regional Australia. We must plan it right. So many regional Australians ask: 'How can we build an economy in regional Australia?' If we can harness renewable energy properly, then it could herald a new golden era from Esperance to Carpentaria and everywhere in between. It's time we in the regions stopped being passive recipients of the energy system and started being active owners of it, with agency over our own power supply, power costs and, importantly, the profits to be made. That's what this bill is about. That's what the Australian Local Power Agency will do.
I urge my colleagues in this House from regional Australia to get behind this, and I urge the government to get behind this. I commend this bill to the House.