Up to 4MW of solar will be installed across six remote indigenous communities in Western Australia, as part of an $11.6 million plan to slash the use of heavy-polluting and heavily subsidised diesel fuel.
The “low-cost and reliable renewable energy solution” was announced by the Labor McGowan government as part of its budget this week, to install an average of 400-600kW in each community, starting next year.
It’s a win-win for the Labor government, considering the project will slash the cost of providing power to the 100 per cent diesel fuelled towns, while also cutting the cost of the government subsidy paid to the state-owned Horizon Power.
The program is being rolled out alongside Horizon Power’s solar incentive project which encourages eligible remote communities to invest in their own roof-top solar on community buildings, with Horizon Power contributing 30 per cent of the cost.
Energy minister Bill Johnston said the roll-out of solar farms would also foster community development through local jobs, training and investment opportunities.
State Aboriginal affairs minister Ben Wyatt – who is also state Treasurer – said it would reduce power bills for community buildings and improve energy reliability at times when it can be hard to access diesel.
The communities set to get the solar power stations are spread throughout the state’s vast Kimberley region, and the include northernmost settlement in Western Australia, Kalumburu.
The government said on Thursday that construction was scheduled for Warmun and Kalumburu in 2020 and in Ardyaloon, Beagle Bay, Djarindjin/Lombadina and Bidyadanga in 2021.
Horizon says it intends to release a Request for Tender for the construction of the east Kimberley systems in May 2019.
“The program follows on from the launch of the McGowan Government’s Energy Transformation Strategy, which aims to deliver cleaner, affordable and more reliable energy,” Johnston said.
But the W.A. Greens say the lack of funds actually allocated to driving the transition to renewables in the state budget tells a different story.
“The only commitment … made to assisting the transition to renewables is two specific solar projects,” Greens WA climate and energy spokesperson Tim Clifford said.
“And though they are important and valid projects, the spend is nothing compared to more than $41 million dollars that is just being given to the fossil fuel industry and related infrastructure.
“Rather than endorse the recently rescinded EPA guidelines to make big polluters offset emissions, the McGowan government is gifting hundreds of thousands of dollars to the sequestration project; to a company that has paid just $50 million in tax from an $8 billion profit,” Clifford said, in reference to Chevron.
“Spending three times as much on the big polluters of our planet, rather than clean energy, clearly shows were the state government’s priorities lie.”