Federal Independent Helen Haines pushes for more renewable energy and how it can occur

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie with Member for Indi Helen Haines at the 'Renewables in the Region' event in July.

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie with Member for Indi Helen Haines at the 'Renewables in the Region' event in July.

The political deadlock over climate change 'inaction' frustrates many in the community and around Australia, but there are many who are just getting on with the job.

One such community is the electorate of Indi, with the backing of their current Independent MP Helen Haines and her predecessor Cathy McGowan.

Indi is a regional Victorian seat, very similar in many ways to Mayo and it has a vibrant community renewable energy network that has been built up over the past decade with more than a dozen community renewable energy groups. They even have an off-grid town, Yackandandah.

This renewable energy network played a big part in changing the politics of Indi from safe Liberal to two successive independent MPs.

Both Ms McGowan and Ms Haines have worked closely with these groups and others to secure federal support for their endeavours.

In September last year, Ms Haines unveiled a $483 million plan to develop a 'sunbelt' of locally owned renewable energy projects across regional Australia.

Called the 'Local Power Plan', this practical blueprint was co-designed by community energy groups and renewable energy experts with aim of ensuring 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.

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said Helen (Ms Haines) introduced two supporting pieces of legislation that provided the framework for the plan.

"These Bills are currently being examined by a parliamentary committee. The 'Local Power Plan' is a great idea developed by people who have been working in this space for decades," Ms Sharkie said.

"I support Helen's Bills and the plan concept and earlier this month I invited Helen to Mayo to share Indi's renewables journey. Fortunately, we missed the Victorian COVID-19 lockdown and we had a good turnout for the event at Stirling.

"Helen's positivity about renewables in the regions is infectious and I received some great feedback from those who attended. A few years ago, there was an attempt by local councils in our region to kick start community energy in Mayo.

"I am not aware of anything concrete coming from this attempt, but I suspect funding and community capacity played a factor in this stalemate."

The 'Local Power Plan' is a framework that seeks to overcome hurdles by attracting strategic investment capital; by establishing local hubs to provide local technical expertise and a centralised agency to enable capacity-building; and by introducing a public underwriting scheme to de-risk mid-scale projects.

"The ball is in the government's court. They decide what legislation is debated and they control the budget purse strings," Ms Sharkie said.

"But the regions are the Coalition's voter heartland and the evidence is there for a significant return on economic investment when regional communities are involved in community energy projects.

"I will continue to add to Helen's advocacy, and if you're interested, I'm in conversations with TRY (Totally Renewable Yackandandah) to set up a virtual forum to discuss Yackandandah's journey with community energy. We're working towards a date in September."

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