East Gippsland and its renewable future

EGCAN media release (edited).

The trifecta of drought, fire and pandemic is still having an impact on our region. Without doubt we have been the worst affected area in the state. The recent Advertiser editorial (27/5/20) and article on the need for a plan for East Gippsland (20/5/20) highlights the need to seize this moment and look to our future.

Reports show that East Gippsland farmers have experienced a 20% loss of income due to climate change, over the past 20 years (ABARES Dec 2019). This is now eclipsed by post fire research (SGS Economics and Planning) showing a decline in annual GDP of 22% for East Gippsland. It’s the greatest impact for all bushfire effected areas in Australia and three times the predicted national rate of decline in GDP post COVID-19.

Without serious action, rising temperatures across East Gippsland will result in increased drought frequency and intensity with more days of extreme heat. The Bushfire Royal Commission last week heard that we can expect another two severe fire events this decade. Our plan must focus on strategies to reduce carbon emissions and ensure our region’s prosperity. Keeping global temperatures below 1.5ºC is still possible.

Community consultation is essential. Embracing latest technologies and opportunities can make East Gippsland the most energy efficient and productive part of the state. Bold choices include providing incentives for major businesses to invest in renewable energy, powering green production and processing of our agricultural produce.

Support for regenerative farming practices will store carbon in the soil while improving soil fertility and productivity. Retraining and re-deploying timber workers and others will provide a workforce to manage our drought affected and stressed forests to encourage bio-diversity and create new forests and plantations.

Rapid implementation of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations in every town in East Gippsland will enable our region to meet the needs of locals and tourists. There are predictions that EVs will be competitive with internal combustion vehicles by the middle of this decade.

We need to ensure existing homes are more energy efficient and new developments subject to planning changes to ensure subdivisions have the best aspect for sun and shade and encourages efficient all-electric homes complete with solar. Community battery storage is as an affordable way to manage energy. Improved energy star ratings will save energy and increase comfort.

A major renewables project already in the advanced planning stage is the Perry Bridge Solar Farm. This will provide 44 MW of new power with battery storage of 40-50MWh. By developing renewables locally, we become less reliant on coal from the Valley and the local gas fired power station can be scaled back allowing for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Isolated towns are ideal for solar and wind powered micro-grids backed by batteries to ensure reliable power. This ensures stable electricity services to areas identified as having vulnerable power supplies, such as Omeo/Benambra, Mallacoota and Buchan/Gelantipy. There has been an enthusiastic response to the recently launched solar/battery micro-grid at Licola.

We need to develop a coherent plan for our future. This will include projects that can start immediately and will reduce carbon emissions rapidly for a safe and sustainable future…