Federal independent member for Indi Helen Haines has launched a vision for massively scaling up community ownership of renewable energy projects, under a $483 million Local Power Plan to help boost regional economies.
Launching the plan with author Rebecca Huntley on Wednesday, Haines said that her Local Power Plan would break down the barriers to community ownership of wind and solar projects, helping to ensure local communities are able to share the benefits of projects being built in their own region.
The Local Power Plan has been designed with a ‘three-pillar’ approach, targeting different scales of community energy projects based on extensive consultation undertaken with community groups and was based on the advice of a 15-member panel of community energy experts.
The first pillar of the plan is the Local Power Scheme, which would establish 50 Local Power Hubs across Australia, supported by $310 million in funding.
A new Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA) would be established to support the creation of new community energy projects. The agency would administer grant funding for the development of new proposals for community energy projects, loans to help finance construction, as well as advising community groups on the preparation of contracts, business cases, communication plans, amongst other support.
“In the Victorian pilot, an initial investment of $1.3 million generated 15 projects worth $14.5 million to the local economy and saved people $364,000 in electricity bills every year,” Haines said.
“Our proposal is significantly more ambitious so would deliver much greater economic return and much greater savings.”
The second pillar borrows from the Morrison government’s own energy policies, and proposes to establish an Underwriting New Community Investment Scheme (UNCI), which would see the federal government underwrite new community owned energy projects between 1MW and 10MW in size.
The UNCI program would guarantee financial returns for projects that secure a minimum of 51 per cent community ownership, that could be through the selling of shares to individuals, community organisations or local councils.
“The underwriting scheme would attract large private investors to partner with local communities to develop, for instance, a solar farm or a community battery that could help power an entire regional town,” Haines added.
The third pillar of Haines’ plan, called the ‘Community Renewable Investment Scheme’ (CRIS) would see any new large-scale renewable energy development, including wind and solar, to offer local communities the chance to acquire ownership of up to 20 per cent of the project.
However, under CRIS projects will not be prevented from progressing without a portion of the project being purchased by community members, but new projects must give communities the chance to buy into the project.
The investment scheme would be designed to ensure local communities have a chance to share in the economic benefits being created by clean energy investments being made in their own regions.
“Every year, energy companies make billions of dollars selling electricity to Australians,” Haines said.
“If everyday regional Australians could invest in these new renewable power stations, we’d create a significant new income stream for everyday people.”
Haines told One Step Off the Grid that she hoped the plan would be supported by the major parties, as it has been designed to be ‘not partisan, completely apolitical and very practical’ in providing support for community ownership of energy projects.
Haines’ own electorate of Indi, located in the North-east of Victoria, is itself a leader in community ownership of clean energy projects. Of around 100 community energy groups active throughout Australia, 12 are located within the Indi electorate, including the Totally Renewable Yackandandah initiative which is aiming to transition the regional town to a completely renewable energy powered microgrid.
Haines said that the strong interest in community energy projects within her own electorate was one of the motivators for the Local Power Plan, adding that she felt compelled to act as a conduit between the local community and federal parliament.
The federal crossbencher will introduce a private member’s bill before the end of the year to implement the Local Power Plan, and has called on the Morrison government to back the plan. Haines had previously flagged the plan, moving a motion in the House of Representatives calling on more government support for community energy.
Haines said that she had already met with federal energy minister Angus Taylor to lobby in support of the Local Power Plan, including asking for the Morrison government to support the plan with $483 million in funding over the next ten years to be included federal budget to be handed down in October.
“To make this a reality, we need the Government to come to the table,” Haines added.
“Right now, we need practical solutions to jolt our economy back to life, and this is a sensible, practical plan we developed with communities right across regional Australia. This could be a catalytic investment in our regions – I’m calling on the Energy Minister to step up for regional Australia.”
“The Local Power Plan would mean lower bills, stronger energy security, and new jobs and opportunities for regional Australians. Now more than ever, that’s exactly what we need.”