Local and state governments plough ahead with renewable energy while the federal government seeks to block their efforts.
In another exciting development for renewable energy in Australia, the country’s largest floating solar farm was launched this week at East Lismore’s Sewage Treatment Plant.
The Lismore Community Solar initiative is a result of a partnership between Lismore City Council and Farming the Sun, which works with communities to fund renewable energy projects that power council facilities.
Under a financial model, the first of its kind in Australia, the project was funded by companies made up of 20 local investors with the funds loaned to council. It’s expected investors will be paid back in the next 12 years.
“It has already generated interest both nationally and internationally as a model for government and community cooperation, with investors receiving a return better than that of a bank,” said Lismore Council’s Environmental Strategies Officer, Sharyn Hunnisett.
As Lismore Council’s highest electricity consuming site, the sewage plant accounts for more than a quarter of the Council’s total electricity consumption. The 280 solar panels on the 100kW floating solar farm will generate 12 per cent of the treatment plant’s energy needs, saving the council nearly $25,000 each year.
The council will expand the solar farm over time to power the treatment plant with 100 per cent solar energy. Lismore Council’s Renewable Energy Master Plan aims to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2023.
“The project has not been without its challenges to establish and get operational, but now that we have done the hard work we have a model others can emulate,” Sharyn said.
The project was also made possible with a grant from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage as well as donations from private philanthropists.
Greens candidate for Page, Daniel Reid, said the solar farm project was born from Lismore's progressive and proactive community spirit which is reflected on Lismore Council.
“The Lismore community has made it very clear that it cares about the environment and the future and that it will tackle the big issues, including climate change and the need to be 100 per cent renewable as quickly as possible.
“Lismore is not a community that will sit back and wait for big government to solve the big problems,” Daniel said.
The large number of renewable energy projects being undertaken at a local and state level sits in stark contrast to the federal government, which has not only sat on its hands in terms of renewable energy policy leadership but also actively supports the fossil fuel industry.
When the world’s largest lithium-ion battery was switched on in South Australia late last year, revolutionising the way electricity is produced and stored, the state’s premier Jay Weatherill took a massive dig at the federal government.
“While others are just talking, we are delivering our energy plan, making South Australia more self-sufficient, and providing back up power and more affordable energy for South Australians this summer,” Jay said.
The Turnbull government’s latest proposed national energy guarantee (Neg) aims to protect coal generators from competition from renewables and get rid of the “spot” market which is a supply and demand driven market where prices fluctuate depending on the purchaser’s requirements.
As reported in the Guardian, analysis by Carbon and Energy Markets for the Australian Conservation Foundation found the national energy guarantee is likely to be a favourable regime for the incumbent generators and unfriendly to renewables.
“The absence of an emission price, makes it harder for buyers and sellers to find each other and to find prices that they are willing to trade at.
“It can be no surprise that there is no evidence in Australia or internationally of an approach similar to the Neg having ever been implemented or even proposed,” the Australian Conservation Foundation said.
The scheme requires agreement from state governments before it can be legislated and the detail of the scheme is to be considered in April.
So why would a liberal government, who supposedly support a free market, implement a policy that seeks to pick winners? Let’s follow the money.
“The current federal coalition government policy is that coal and coal fired power should be in the clean energy mix,” Daniel Reid said.
“There is a very close relationship between the major parties and the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists, particularly the Minerals Council.
“The renewable energy sector has been frustrated for many years by the preferential treatment that the fossil fuel industry receives despite the overwhelming evidence of the rapid advancement of renewable technology and the economic success of the renewable energy sector across the globe.
“The problem is the current Liberal-National Coalition are backing the wrong players and refusing access to even a fraction of the subsidies available to the fossil fuel sector.
“The evidence is that we need to phase out coal fired power as quickly as we can, but the current federal government continues to invest in coal, is on its knees begging the fossil fuel industry to continue to generate coal fired power, and has absurdly mooted building its own coal fired power station.
“With the right government support and leadership the renewable industry is ready, including non-centralised community owned initiatives, but current government policies stand in the way of our clean energy future.
“Australia needs a strategic, responsible and supported end to coal fired power. Any member of parliament not advocating for this is ignoring the evidence of what is needed, is missing the economic initiative and is playing dangerously with our future,” Daniel said.
*The author lives off grid in the Byron hinterland and is free from both a conflict of interest in writing this piece and rising energy prices.