House debates

Thursday, 17 February 2022


Environment and Energy Committee; Report

12:22 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, I present the committee's advice and report, incorporating dissenting reports, on the inquiry into the Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 and the Australian Local Power Agency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, together with the minutes of the proceedings.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—Australia's regional communities want access to affordable, reliable and secure energy. As Australia's electricity generation mix changes and the grid transitions to a less carbonised future, consumers across Australia, not just in metropolitan areas, should have the opportunity to benefit from improvements to the electricity system. Regional and rural communities are keen to be involved in their cleaner energy future and have indicated that smaller scale energy projects, up to 10 megawatts, can struggle to attract development and progression.

The bills before the committee were introduced by the member for Indi and follow her own consultative process to address these perceived gaps in regional energy investment and supply. The bills are intended to give effect to the Local Power Plan, the LPP, to promote renewable energy generation and community power projects in regional, rural and remote Australia. The bills would establish the Australian Local Power Agency, the ALPA, as a new corporate Commonwealth entity responsible for driving investment in community energy projects and supporting regional communities in sharing the benefits of renewable energy.

The committee called for submissions on the bills in February 2021. The committee received 71 submissions and 13 supplementary submissions. The inquiry was also the subject of two email campaigns, yielding 1,001 contributions. The committee held a public hearing in August 2021, taking further evidence from 30 interested stakeholders, including from regional communities. Ultimately, based on the evidence received in the inquiry, the committee considers that the creation of another bureaucratic agency with all the costs and administration that entails would not be of benefit to Australia. In the committee's view, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are the appropriate agencies to undertake the work of providing support to renewable energy projects in Australia, including regional communities. For these reasons, the committee has recommended that the bills not be passed.

I thank my colleagues on the committee who actively participated in and brought their perspectives to this inquiry, in particular I acknowledge the work of the member for Indi in bringing these bills forward and participating as a supplementary member on the inquiry. I thank the secretariat for, again, their diligence and good work, and, finally, I thank all the individuals and organisations that contributed to the committee's inquiry through submissions and participation in public hearings. I commend the report to the House.

12:26 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

HAINES () (): by leave—I wish to thank the member for Fairfax for tabling the report on my Australian Local Power Agency Bill. I'd also like to recognise the dedicated and fair-minded approach that the member for Fairfax has brought to this role in overseeing the committee work and inquiry into my bill.

The Australian Local Power Agency Bill 2021 was born in Indi, and my electorate is leading the nation in the renewable energy transition. We have around a dozen community energy groups already, and, in fact, this Saturday I'll formally be launching the new Myrtleford community power group. These groups, led by hardworking volunteers, have installed solar power on CFA's, health centres, hospitals, low-income housing and kindergartens. They've built community batteries and they've built mini grids, and in doing so they strengthen their communities. They're not waiting for the government to fix their problems. They're not waiting for big companies to come in and build things for them. They're everyday regional people getting on with it and building renewables themselves.

Throughout 2020 I met with these groups right across my electorate and invited submissions from all across the country. Our goal was simple: we wished to design a policy framework at the federal level to support the incredible work in community renewables that was already taking place right across regional Australia, and the outcome of that process was the Local Power Plan. The Local Power Plan sketched out an ambitious vision to make regional Australia home to the best renewable energy industry and to harness the power that industry has to deliver a generation of prosperity for everyday regional Australian people. To do that, the Local Power Plan proposed three things.

First, the Local Power Plan proposed a new program of funding and technical support to help communities to develop their own projects. It's abundantly clear that, if we want all our regional sporting clubs and hospitals and community organisations to access the benefits of cheap, clean, reliable renewables, we need more funding and we need technical support on the ground to help make these projects happen. Second, the Local Power Plan proposed a mechanism to attract investment. Many communities around the country want to develop their own locally owned midscale solar farms and batteries, but to do that they need to attract investment. The government already has a scheme to underwrite investment in commercial projects. Community projects deserve the same treatment. Third, the Local Power Plan said we need a way for regional communities to share in the economic benefits of large-scale renewable projects. Too often we see these large-scale commercial projects being built without delivering their full potential to regional Australia. We need to be seeing more local jobs and new sources of income for local people, and the profits shouldn't just flow to the cities or offshore.

While it stops short of recommending the establishment of a new agency for regional Australia, this committee report, tabled today, recognises that regional Australia needs these three things. On funding and technical support, the committee report finds:

… that existing grant and investment mechanisms do not adequately support projects in regional Australia …

and that the government should look at how it can provide:

… properly resourced technical assistance, delivered through ARENA, for community groups in regional Australia that wish to develop their own community energy projects.

On investment, the committee report finds the government should look to:

… establish a dedicated mechanism for small communities and community energy organisations—

to attract investment. And on large-scale benefits sharing, the committee:

… acknowledges a desire in regional communities to see more local benefits from large scale energy projects.

This is the first time that an Australian government has recognised the need for serious reform to put proper investment behind community energy. Now, certainly there are gaps. The committee report accepts that stronger support for community energy would deliver real benefits for regional Australia and that reform is needed, but the road map to reform is now in the hands of the government. The government's response to this report should implement the three core planks of the Local Power Plan. The government should commit $300 million to set up a dedicated local power fund within ARENA to support these community energy projects, and couple that financial support with a nationwide system of community power hubs to provide that on-the-ground technical support. The government should set up a dedicated mechanism to attract private sector investment into locally owned renewables projects. And the government should develop, and publish, its own proposal to enhance local benefit sharing from large-scale renewable energy projects. To get all of this done, we need a top to bottom review of ARENA to identify the best way to place regional Australia at the centre of its remit, not as an afterthought.

When I first came to parliament just a few years ago, I committed to fighting for policies that will back the regions to seize the opportunities of renewable energy, and as long as I'm here I'll continue to fight for these recommendations to be delivered because the regions simply cannot, and must not, be left behind in the renewable energy transition. We need a plan to make renewable energy the next wool boom, the next gold rush. I've got such a plan. A cross-party committee has endorsed its fundamental elements. Now it's on the government to take it up, and I truly, truly encourage them to do so.

12:33 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

' BRIEN () (): I move:

That the House take note of the report.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.