Reinventing the northern rivers as a regional bio-energy hub was the most ambitious proposal to come out of the third North Coast Energy Forum in Lismore last Friday.
Organiser Mark Byrne said the 120 stakeholders, experts and leaders who attended this year’s forum represented a big leap forward in participation and momentum, making it more than just another ‘talkfest’.
‘The 120 attendees was way up on previous years and the 28 speakers covered a wide variety of topics, everything from bioenergy to issues relating to grid connections,’ he said.
‘But the biggest outcome was the idea of the northern rivers becoming a future bio-energy hub –Page MP Janelle Saffin is especially keen on the idea so in the lead up to the election we’re counting on her to follow-up on that.’
Ms Saffin has asked for a plan showing how the idea could be achieved, adding that such a concept debunked criticisms from CSG proponents that northern rivers residents were happy to burn fossil fuels but just didn’t want any production in its backyard.
Mr Byrne said the forum also called for a regional energy action plan that identified the best opportunities for transforming the energy economy of the region.
‘There have been similar things done in other states but nothing in NSW so far,’ Mr Byrne said.
He added that there was continuing interest following on from previous years for community groups to band together to create renewable projects in their area – like small-scale solar farms on public buildings where the public can buy shares in a community scheme.
‘We’ll now be pushing those things with funding bodies wherever we can, especially through the Sustain Northern Rivers collaboration, for a region-wide focus on transforming to a clean energy economy,’ Mr Byrne said.
‘We were really glad to have politicians from each level of government there on Friday, though some attendees were concerned that there were no Liberals or Nationals present.
‘We had invited everyone but they just didn’t show.’
Lismore mayor, Jenny Dowell, who along with Byron mayor Simon Richardson and Lismore councillor Simon Clough represented local government, said she was pleased to see such a large number of community members who were committed to a future based on renewable energy.
‘This movement is community driven. I share the pride that this region is leading the way, just as we have in the anti-CSG debate,’ she said.
‘Council is aiming to be self-sufficient in energy in 10 years. It’s an ambitious goal with the Community Solar Farm as an important step towards achieving it.’
Lismore City councillor Simon Clough said some of the priorities established at the day-long conference were to get a community-based energy project up and running; to negotiate with one of the major energy retailers to provide adequate renewable energy to consumers; and also to question the need for the proposed 330kV high-transmission line from Dumaresq to Lismore.
‘It’s been delayed at the moment but with the fall in energy consumption and the rise in renewables, no one could see any justification for it – at somewhere around $270 million it seems the government would do better to save the money and give it back to those under electricity stress or directing it into renewables,’ Cr Clough said.