by Maria Taylor
NSW Renewable Energy Advocate Amy Kean came to Bungendore on a Sunday in late October en route to the Infigen Run with the Wind event.
She walked and ran the 5 km course along with her husband, and two small children in a stroller, while mother-in-law and small dog walked partway. It was that kind of event.
Kean joined some 600 hundred running walking enthusiasts who panted up hill and zipped down dale on the 10 and five kilometre courses under 23 imposing wind turbines at the Woodlawn site (owned by Veolia Environmental Services) near Tarago and next to the Capital Wind farm.
Over coffee in Bungendore we chatted about her role, what is at stake for NSW with the present uncertainty about the Renewable Energy Target (RET) at the federal government level, and what NSW is doing about renewable energy since Environment Minister Rob Stokes gave his ‘we’ll be like California’ speech to the Clean Energy Council in July.
Kean, who works across portfolios but answers to Energy Minister Anthony Roberts, says her job is to promote generation of renewables and increase capacity in NSW. She confirmed that NSW is standing fast for the 41,000 GWh from large generation sources (like wind and large scale solar) set by the original RET target – still uncertain due to federal government attempts at winding the program back.
Given the realities of votes in the Senate, current negotiations may save that RET target with the compromise that several large electricity users, notably the aluminium industry, are exempted from having to offset their use of coal-fired power with renewable certificates.
Kean said a huge amount is at stake for NSW. “NSW has some of the best solar and wind resources in the country. There is $13 billion in projects in the pipeline at the moment. But the market needs upfront capital to build and therefore certainty is essential.”
She said 13,000 jobs are already in the renewable energy sector with another 20,000 with the projects in the pipeline. ”This is particularly important for regional Australia where these projects would be built.”
Renewables driving down cost of energy, ‘community owned’ supported
Once the investment in infrastructure is made, “all studies are showing that renewables are driving down costs of energy as renewable fuels are virtually free. But security and diversity of supply are essential,” said Kean.
A priority issue is getting around the community divisiveness generated by some wind projects, as experienced in Palerang recently. Kean noted that farmers who host wind turbines love the income that drought-proofs their farms. However, the financial benefits could be shared more widely with neighbours. (A common figure mentioned is $10,000 rental per year per turbine).
Examples come from the Coonooer Bridge wind farm in Victoria where rental income was shared and harmony reigned, or a model demonstrated in Bathurst/Orange where the sharing entailed offering the income from one or more turbines to the neighbouring community: becoming a ‘community-owned,’ energy project.
Kean said Environment Minister Rob Stokes has just announced $700,000 for community-owned energy. In the past, these funds have paid for scoping studies for projects to then raise capital and operate commercially. This is likely to continue
End of solar bonus scheme for some, energy efficiency for many
When the solar bonus scheme, that many in Palerang and Queanbeyan benefited from, winds down in a couple of years, current policy indicates that money will be ploughed into projects like assisting energy efficiency in low income households, said Kean.
As the biggest landholder in the state, NSW now also has a policy in place to make government buildings more energy efficient. A solar power program for public buildings is also on the agenda.
Rooftop solar still flying
Kean said that the fastest growing area of rooftop solar uptake in NSW is from lower socio-economic communities who want to save on energy bills. 250,000 households in NSW now enjoy rooftop solar benefits (two million nationally) and Dubbo enjoys the title of solar capital of NSW.
She said NSW has doubled its renewable capacity in recent years with $8 billion in renewable investment in the past five years: 13 percent of the state’s energy now comes from renewables, mostly solar.
All of this has raised another “wicked policy problem” namely how to weave the new small-scale technologies into existing networks and administrative practices in national energy markets
“Our energy systems have changed: households (and businesses) are now generators and consumers. The challenge is how do we adapt existing systems so that you can sell energy to your neighbour or back to the utility.”
Battery technology will further complicate this scene but make consumers more independent too.