Wendy Champagne in Q&A with renewables champion Dave Rawlins
In less than two weeks our vote in the NSW state election could really cement lasting, positive change in the region, according to COREM co-founder and project manager Dave Rawlins (DR).
COREM stands for Community Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby. The group installs renewables projects around the Northern Rivers region.
This is the once-in-a-generation opportunity to claim some of the space in new electricity generation. If we’re passionate about climate and no more coal and gas generation, then we need to walk the talk. We need to lead the charge to demonstrate not only that it’s doable, but also show the enormous benefits that can come with switching to community renewable electricity.
Q: You’ve said that ‘the transition to 100 per cent renewables is not an aspiration, it’s a time and management issue’, what does that mean?
DR: ‘The writing’s on the wall for the coal and gas industry. Eventually all our electricity will come from renewable sources.
‘Our point is that if we don’t challenge the system now, the money will go back to the mega-retailers and our local region will not benefit.’
Q: So how much time is needed?
DR: ‘I believe we can have most areas running on renewable electricity within the term of the next government.
‘It’s there in COREM’s mission statement. It just means breaking down the barriers to community-owned renewable electricity as fast and fairly as we can.’
Q: How do you do that?
DR: ‘First let’s pull back to the current state of play. If you are purchasing power from the grid today, from one of the dominant retailers, your money leaves the region and props up coal and gas.
‘We know the large retailers and generators of electricity are making mega-profits, so it’s imperative that we claim a stake in that right now.
‘Think about how the transition is going to occur. At present, we are very centralised with the large coal generators. If you look across NSW, the most efficient way for renewables is to tap into wind farms in the windiest part of the state and solar farms in the sunniest parts. But we want to add micro-generation to the system so every regional community is engaged in energy generation and gets the benefits from that.
‘We absolutely don’t want to displace coal fire generators with large-scale renewables generators that support the incumbent electricity resellers and generators.
‘We want to add localised generation that supports local economies and rewards residents with lower prices. For us it’s clear: we can flip the business-as-usual model where we pay a lot for electricity and we don’t actually get any environmental or local economy benefit.’
Q: So what are the benefits of community renewables for a resident of the Ballina electorate?
DR: ‘When you generate renewable power locally – say through our community solar gardens plan – your money is circulated in the local economy. We are looking at a model where tenants can also get the benefit from these.
‘You can then go one step further and generate your own electricity from your rooftop solar panels and benefit from selling that electricity back to the local grid. There is no reason why almost every house in this region cannot be its own mini-generator.
‘It means that local towns and villages would generate more power than they need and earn money by exporting renewables into the state grid. We want the area to become energy independent, but not off-grid’.
Q: What do you want to ask from these candidates?
DR: ‘It’s time for real strategic action from government. Take for example our mini-hydro project. We’ve already conducted a successful pre-feasibility study, and the state government can help through grants for a feasibility study to reinstate the system that was originally designed to generate power for Mullumbimby.
‘Also, the government could drop some of the archaic regulation that supports a centralised system and legislate to make it easier for community-generated electricity. They could support peer-to-peer trading, for example.
‘They could add incentives for people to support renewables and allow communities to lead the way. The whole energy system is going to be so different so quickly… many people still think electricity needs to come from the Hunter Valley, almost 1000kms away.’
Q: So on the night of the candidates forum, what is COREM’s big ask?
DR: ‘Firstly, we’ll work with anyone who is committed to renewables now. We want a commitment to binding targets and the most rapid transition away from coal and gas that we can.
‘COREM wants to ensure the Northern Rivers owns a stake in this energy transition. We might not have the best renewable energy resources in the state, but our solar capacity is much better than most of those around the world.
‘What we have is a passionate community that wants to be a part of this transition. Let’s enable the Ballina electorate to be a leader in distributed renewable power. Let’s get on and do it.’
The Echo, Bay FM and COREM candidates forum will be held March 18 from 7pm at the Byron Theatre. All welcome. If you have a burning question for the candidates send it to: [email protected]
The Facebook event for Ballina Meet the Candidates is at www.facebook.com.