After a year like no other where Victorians faced catastrophic bushfires over summer and then stared down the outbreak of Covid-19, how can we build back better as the post-Covid economic recovery gets underway?
The Victorian government's most recent budget marks a significant shift for renewable energy and climate action in the state, after the Andrews government announced a massive $1.6 billion in funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades, as well as increased for funding public transport projects. Thge budget will see billions of dollars spent delivering home energy efficiency upgrades, accelerating rooftop solar and batteries, beginning construction on stage one of the Suburban Rail Loop and building new, energy efficient public housing stock. These are all very welcome announcements that will have a positive impact on people’s living standards, and create jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These are exactly the kinds of announcements we need to see more of if we’re going to have a chance of acting on the climate crisis.
As momentum builds towards more climate change solutions, Friends of the Earth Melbourne's Yes 2 Renewables collective is putting the spotlight on five of the top clean energy projects for a renewables-led recovery in Victoria.
Building renewable energy delivers significant economic benefits by creating regional jobs, generating a new source of community income, and delivering more affordable electricity. Alongside the economic benefits, building wind and solar enables us to move away from reliance on polluting fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and giving us a fighting chance of getting the climate crisis under control.
So, what are some of the key clean energy projects for a renewables led-recovery in Victoria? Here’s Yes2Renewables’ top five:
The Star of the South Offshore Wind Farm
An Australia first, this offshore wind proposal marks an exciting beginning for a whole new industry. With approximately 250 turbines stretched over 10-25km in Bass Strait east of Yarram in Gippsland South, its predicted the Star of the South will be capable of generating a whopping 2,000 megawatts of electricity, and has the potential to supply up to 20% of Victoria’s electricity needs. Critically, producing this much renewable energy is predicted to avoid up to 10.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
It’s the right project in the right place at the right time.
Proposed in the state’s east, the Star of the South will generate renewable energy from a new wind resource that will complement existing renewable energy supply from the state’s west.
During this important moment of economic recovery, the Star of the South is set to provide 8000 direct and indirect jobs in Victoria over its 30-year lifespan. Modelling also shows that the project would deliver an estimated $4.9 billion of investment directly into Gippsland’s regional economy.
The prospect of establishing a new offshore wind industry that can complement the existing onshore wind and solar sectors is too important to ignore. If it’s going to become a reality, it’s critical that Energy Minister Angus Taylor delivers national offshore clean energy legislation to pave the way for the Star of the South and other offshore wind proposals.
Given the project’s proximity to the Latrobe Valley, home to the state’s ageing coal fired generators, the Star of the South presents a real opportunity to create a transition pathway for workers exiting the coal, oil and gas sectors.
Will the Andrews government take the chance to become the national leader in offshore wind? If Victoria is going to maximise the benefits of projects like the Star of the South, the state will need an offshore wind strategy that prioritises local jobs and training, domestic manufacturing, coordinates transmission and ports upgrades and ensures the community has a say in the future of this sector.
Golden Plains Wind Farm
The Golden Plains wind farm is another significant renewable energy project on the table that could play a key role in economic recovery efforts. The onshore wind farm, proposed near the regional town of Rokewood, 60km north west of Geelong, would comprise 228 wind turbines and be hosted by a large group of 48 landowners on agricultural land. The development is predicted to generate over 3500GWh per annum, enough to power over 500,000 Victorian homes. As we know, building new renewable energy supply puts downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices, so projects like Golden Plains have an important role in delivering cheaper power. It’s estimated the project will avoid more than 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere each year.
Once operational, the Golden Plains wind farm will create a community fund to provide annual financial support of up to $228,000 annually to various community-based initiatives and events. The fund will target a range of community needs including health and social welfare, safety, education and youth, sport, arts and economic development.
Its location at Rokewood means the project is well suited to deliver electricity to the Victoria’s upcoming Big Battery, which will be built north of Geelong. Given the scale of the wind proposal, it would also have the potential to repower large electricity users with renewable energy, such as the Portland aluminium smelter in the state's west.
Totally Renewable Yackandandah shows the path ahead for community owned solar
Totally Renewable Yackandandah is a 100% volunteer run community group, formed in 2014, in a small town located in Victoria’s north east. Totally Renewable’s driving force is to power this small Victorian town with 100% renewable energy and achieve power sovereignty by 2022.
The group has a comprehensive 5-stage road map that guides local energy generation and sharing capabilities amongst the town. This encompasses solar and storage installations at residential and community properties, a mini grid to connect it all and a community energy retailer to facilitate the trading and sharing of energy. Such local energy generation has encouraged the launch of the community energy retailer, Indigo Power, for buying and selling the local clean energy.
Totally Renewable Yackandandah a prime example of the community taking renewable energy and climate action into their own hands. It is not only providing a clean, local energy source to hundreds of homes, but also provides a source of revenue for community members. The approach by Totally Renewable Yackandandah is an excellent illustration of a thriving community-owned clean energy project that boosts community growth, investment whilst reducing emissions.
TRY are finalists for a Premier's Sustainablity Award in the 'Community' category this year -- you can help them out by voting here!
Latrobe Valley first -- the Delburn Wind Farm
The Delburn wind farm could be the first wind project built in the Latrobe Valley’s, helping to drive transition to renewable energy right in the centre of Victoria's coal industry. The Delburn wind farm is proposed for construction amongst the HPV Plantations, with just 33 turbines after significant community consultation. Anticipated to generate 5.2MW of clean energy, this is enough to power 125,000 homes in the region and cut 590,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum.
As well as being the Latrobe Valley's first wind project, the Delburn wind farm also demonstrates a new approach to sharing the benefits of renewable energy projects with neighbouring communities. In particular the project will be open to Community Co-investment, which means local community members will have the opportunity to directly invest and become part-owners in the project. This is distinct from having a large company solely own a project, and should arguably be a more common practise for the wider renewable energy industry.
The proposal comes at a crucial moment when the state's aging coal stations are becoming increasingly unreliable, and are facing greater pressure to close due to the impact of burning coal on greenhouse gas emissions, the climate and public health. Along with other projects in the area like the Fraser Solar Farm at Toongabbie, the Delburn wind farm marks an important shift in the Latrobe Valley's energy industry as the region transitions away from fossil fuels, presenting an opportunity to create new career opportunities for young people while cutting emissions.
The Victorian Big Battery
Last, but certainly not least, is of course the recently announced Victorian Big Battery. Forecasted to be one of the world’s largest lithium-ion batteries, this project will be built in Victoria, north of Geelong, as a state backed initiative to bolster the reliability of the grid. Developed by energy giant Neoen, the battery will have a 300 megawatt capacity – a massive three times the initial size of the Tesla battery in South Australia. Critically, battery technology competes with gas-peaking plants, which are the most expensive form of electricity in the grid and also drive the climate crisis by releasing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.
The battery will protect our energy network by capturing and storing excess power created during times when conditions for renewable energy are more favourable, then release it when it’s needed during peak periods. This is an absolute must during the hot Aussie summers where black outs pose an imminent health risk to our most vulnerable.
Further, the Big Battery will drive down energy prices as coal-fire power stations slowly expire, as a clean and cheap source of electricity. The project is set to create 85 construction jobs in the regional area, and several more indirect and ongoing roles. These clean energy jobs are a necessity in the local economy which has been bit hard by the force of Covid-19.
After a year of dealing with bushfire disaster and the Covid crisis, what we do next will reshape the economy and the planet. By building back better with renewable energy, Victoria can create jobs, deliver investment to regional communities, and reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions to act on the climate crisis. Now to get to it.