Independent MP Helen Haines unveils $483 million plan to develop a ‘sunbelt’ of regional renewable energy projects

Helen Haines

Dr Helen Haines. Photographer: Jeremy Weihrauch.

Federal independent MP Dr Helen Haines has unveiled a $483 million plan to develop a ‘sunbelt’ of locally owned renewable energy projects across regional Australia.

The Local Power Plan, launched by Haines this week, would establish 50 hubs in regional centres to support everyday communities to develop their own renewable energy projects.

The idea is to ensure Australians in regional communities reap the benefits from small, mid and large scale renewable energy projects being built in their area.

Each of the hubs built as part of the Local Power Plan would provide technical expertise and distribute $650,000 worth of grants to local community groups each year over the next decade. It would enable local groups to develop their own energy projects.

Haines, who is the federal member for Indi, said this part of the plan is modelled on a successful pilot program by the Victorian state government in the regions of Bendigo, Ballarat and the Latrobe Valley.

“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.”

Haines’ plan for community energy would also involve two other schemes to ensure regional communities benefit from commercial energy developments.

One scheme would see the federal government underwrite new mid-scale projects that are at least 51% community-owned.

“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 said.

The second scheme involves a requirement that any new large-scale renewable projects offer local communities the opportunity to purchase 20% of the project equity.

“Every year, energy companies make billions of dollars selling electricity to Australians,” Haines says.

“If everyday regional Australians could invest in these new renewable power stations, we’d create a significant new income stream for everyday people.”

Haines described the proposal as a “catalytic investment” in regional Australia, and says it would mean lower bills, new job opportunities and energy security in the regions.

Haines has approach federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor about the community energy plan and has lobbied for the Local Power Plan to be funded in the upcoming budget.

“To make this a reality, we need the government to come to the table,” she said.

“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 article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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