I am pleased to make a contribution to the Energy Legislation Amendment (Feed-in Tariffs and Improving Safety and Markets) Bill 2016.
The bill makes a number of amendments to Victoria’s energy legislation in relation to renewable energy feed-in tariffs and national energy markets.
It also deals with safety outcomes for Victorian consumers of electricity and gas and makes various other amendments.
The proposed changes made by the bill will enable renewable energy feed-in tariffs — that is, the amount people are paid for the solar and wind power that they produce for the electricity network — to be set more efficiently and to better reflect demand. My understanding is that there will be changes that will enable the time of day, for instance, to be taken into account, whether it is peak time, off peak or on the shoulder, to better reflect current prices. The changes will also take into account the environmental and social costs of generation, recognising that greenhouse gas emissions avoided by replacing power from coal with renewable green energy is indeed a good thing.
Energy is one of our greatest challenges and goes hand in hand with climate change. It has been interesting over the last couple of years to attend at incidents after a massive storm. I can think of a hailstorm in Shepparton only a year ago. Now, visiting the farms, you hear farmers say, ‘This sort of thing is amazing’ and ‘This sort of thing to me says that climate change is probably happening’. I do not know whether the member for Mildura would agree with me, but I am hearing farmers talk more and more about climate change, about variability in climate, recognising that there are drier times around us, that we are in a situation where we know that we will have less water in our future. The Victorian water plan and the studies that have been done around that show how that water capacity is reducing and that run-off into our streams over time is going to become less and less.
I look at businesses in my community, and some of them are going to solar. In my own legal practice, before I left it to come here, we put solar on the practice and only spent about $10 000, I think. There was some government subsidy. As a result of that, we really do not get an electricity bill anymore. I think we use it all — we are not feeding back into the grid — but it is things like that that people are actually wanting to do.
There is another business in Nathalia that produces trays for semitrailers, and that business has gone solar. The price of energy is certainly an issue for everyone, but people are looking at and wanting to adopt alternative ways to achieve energy savings for themselves, and in our area solar energy has always been regarded as very doable. We have more sunlight in Shepparton than probably anywhere else in Australia. Back in the 1980s there was the notion that Shepparton would become a solar city. It was a vision that just did not seem to get up at the time, and it is probably now, 30 years later, that everyone is getting on board.
I would like to tell you about an organisation in my electorate called GV Community Energy. This is an organisation that has a mission of promoting community action that reduces greenhouse emissions and stimulates sustainable living. It has been a business that actively assists residents, businesses, community organisations and government authorities to look at their carbon activities. They started as a volunteer organisation in 2008 and were established for the purpose of getting a whole lot of households together to bulk purchase their solar panels. They did that in Murchison for 15 families. This was so successful that within a short time they had had a number of public meetings, and their next project resulted in 1700 solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, 150 hot-water services and 31 public seminars because people were wanting to hear about what they could do on the ground in their own homes and in their local businesses to address energy production for themselves and to reduce their costs.
One of the projects that GV Community Energy was also concerned with was the low-income energy efficiency program, which ran between 2014 and 2016 within the Shepparton area. It was funded by the Australian government to engage 2750 low-income homes in looking at their residential energy use. The methods used by this organisation to assist them were just going in and doing home energy assessments, looking at what their house looked like and what they could do fairly cheaply to improve their energy use. Some of these things meant changing to better light bulbs, reducing drafts throughout the house, understanding insulation and even things like insulating the hot-water pipes coming off their hot-water services outside. There was a lot of education done around the use of their appliances, the times of day to use them and just generally being efficient. That was seen as a very useful and effective exercise, and the company that did it, GV Community Energy, is now being widely engaged to do home assessments for people who are interested in being more energy efficient within their homes.
The Shepparton district, as I said, has all the sunlight it needs, and there has been a lot of interest shown in recent times in maybe having solar farms in our area. Wangaratta has currently got a permit before its local council to look at building a very large solar farm. We have some across northern Victoria and into southern New South Wales that are being built and currently operating.
Let me tell you about the Moira Shire Council, half of which is in my electorate. I recently had the pleasure of meeting several of the young council officers who work in their sustainability department, and it was interesting to hear the extent to which local councils across our regions are becoming engaged in the issue of environmental sustainability. They have developed their own environmental sustainability strategy, and one of its main goals is to reduce the shire’s own energy consumption. Moira shire, in conjunction with other local councils, recently undertook a street lighting program, installing energy-efficient light bulbs throughout the town. It was known as ‘Watts Working Better’. The result has been a $200 000-a-year reduction in the council’s energy bill for local street lighting. The council has also introduced organic waste services and is looking at a community solar project.
The community solar project is interesting because it involves people who cannot afford to or do not want to put solar panels on their roof. There are often reasons for this, and one of course is if you are renting a home but you want to be engaged in a solar project. The solar farm enables you to buy in, probably at a similar cost to putting panels on your roof. You then receive a commensurate benefit for being a part of that without having the panels on your roof. This is something that the Moira Shire Council are looking at. There are currently legislative impediments that will stop them doing it, but they are very keen to meet with government, talk about these sorts of projects and see whether it is something that they can get up. I congratulate the Moira Shire Council for the work they are doing in relation to sustainability and renewable energy, and I was really pleased to see the enthusiasm of these young officers who work for the local government in my area and the goals and aspirations they have to improve our community.
I also recently became aware of Hepburn Wind, and it was actually the same officers who told me about it. This is a cooperative that is owned and operated by the community. It is the first community wind farm in Australia. It operates two turbines known as Gusto and Gale. It has enormous community support and helps many other communities with their community energy projects.
There is a lot of innovation happening in our communities, and governments need to legislate to ensure the facilitation of projects which will ultimately reduce our greenhouse emissions and of course household energy costs. I attended the climate change briefing today, and it is interesting to consider how information is getting out to our communities. I really bemoan the fact that so much of the research that used to take place in our communities — for instance, at the Tatura research station and the Kyabram research centre — has all gone back to capital cities, with all research now being done in major institutions in areas that are remote from our communities. Yet it is our communities who will adopt so much of what they discover. I urge government to go back to the grassroots, go back to our communities and put research in those places where it belongs.