At this week’s Lismore City Council meeting, a motion from Cr Adam Guise to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy and remove $92m worth of council’s investment exposure to fossil fuels was defeated.
Community member Virginia White spoke to the meeting on the issue. She said it was important that there be a public briefing, especially considering the increasing tendency for ‘things to happen somewhat behind closed doors’ at Lismore Council.
Regarding divestment, Ms White said, ‘This community has had a massive slap in the face from climate change. And we’re going to sit here and debate about whether we should keep investing in fossil fuels or not? Should we keep stoking up the fires that are cooking us?’
She said that continuing to invest in fossil fuels could not ‘in any way be described as caring, compassionate and forward-looking.’
As for switching Lismore Council to 100 per cent renewable power, Ms White said it was her understanding that this would also save ratepayers money. ‘This has to be a no-brainer,’ she said.
The voice of youth
Kashmir Miller also spoke in favour of Cr Guise’s motion.
‘For this council to support this motion is to tell all of those in our community who have been impacted by fires, floods and drought that we are serious about protecting their future from further climate catastrophes,’ she said.
Ms Miller said the conversation was significant at both a local and national level. ‘I’m a young person who’s lived in Lismore for my whole life. I’m one of many that has experienced climate, grief and anxiety for what my future will hold. This fear for the future is a mental health trigger for so many who are tuned into the science around climate,’ she said.
‘This motion would be more than just an investment into our future. It’s a symbol of solidarity of action and commitment to use the power that you have as councillors in ways that are forward thinking and committed to listening to the community voice,’ said Ms Miller.
‘To pretend that action like this at the local government level is cannot make a real impact towards climate action, and creating a cleaner future, is lazy and blatantly untrue. Some of the biggest users of electricity in this council are council assets, pools, street lighting, sewage pumps and more,’ she said.
‘Committing to divest away from fossil fuels and having that conversation with the community is also a strategy into having cheaper and cleaner energy in the future.’
Cr Guise thanked the supportive speakers, noting that Lismore Council had formerly had a master plan for 100 per cent renewable energy by 2023, before it was derailed.
‘Now is the opportune time to put pen to paper and actually implement the action,’ he said.
He noted staff comments that Lismore Council was moving towards a contract for voluntary large scale generation certificates, which would eventually lead to 100 per cent renewables for council operations, but that process needed to be accelerated.
In terms of fossil fuel investments, Cr Guise said ‘Our investment strategy has been a blight on our council for a number of years… We had back in the day, some 70 per cent or thereabouts divestment from fossil fuels. We’ve seen a reverse of that in recent times, as you’ll see in the investments item in our business paper, that’s reversed. We now have close to 70 per cent investment in fossil fuel.’
Cr Darlene Cook spoke in support of the motion, providing a historical perspective. She said previous councils had agreed to slowly divest away from fossil fuel investments and to support those institutions who were funding non fossil fuel projects.
‘To this end over time, we developed quite a wide portfolio of supporting smaller banks or local credit unions, building societies, who in turn supported small businesses and homebuyers in rural and regional areas.
‘This move away from fossil fuel investments has been supported by some major institutions around the world, said Cr Cook. ‘In 2016, for example, 27 Australian councils moved away from fossil fuel investments. There’ll be a lot more by now. In 2020, New York City moved its entire pension fund to renewables, that’s a $226 billion investment.
‘Now you have governments around the world, US, Canada, parts of Europe, all pledging to stop fossil fuel in investments.
‘I appreciate our very conservative Treasury does not support this. And when council was looking about possible future borrowing for asset replacements, we were told we would have to divest from our smaller institutions and move back to the big four banks. I think this is a very negative step,’ said Cr Cook.
‘In a world where climate change is rapidly showing that it’s having impacts upon our communities, the time is coming when we must make a stand for our community and for the wellbeing of this earth and environment. For this reason, I support Cr Guise’s call,’ she said.
What about the bottom line?
Cr Andrew Gordon spoke against the motion, saying there was no need for a public briefing on the issue. He went on to say that the reason Lismore Council reversed its investment strategy was that green energy didn’t pay dividends.
A discussion between Cr Elly Bird and staff members then revealed that Lismore Council was moving towards sourcing its energy from a wind farm, in 2025.
Cr Big Rob stood up and said, ‘All our investments are in term deposits, the banks decide what they invest in, we can’t control the banks. So all we’re doing is protesting against the banks.’
He said Lismore Council had a responsibilty to ratepayers to get the best possible return on investments. Questioning Cr Guise’s suggestion that council should stop borrowing, he said he ‘had a bit of background in finance’, which led him to believe ‘there’s good borrowing and bad borrowing’.
He suggested expert financial planners with ASIC accreditation should be in charge of investment strategy, ‘not protesters or people that have got agendas politically to decide, well, we can’t do that because, you know, it’s against the environment or something.’
Cr Rob called for diversification of investments, before going into a long speech about the evils of the EV industry, wind turbines and batteries.
Right of reply
Cr Adam Guise said, ‘This is about listening to the sentiment of our community and listening to the science of climate change and recognising that we can’t keep exposing our ratepayers to a fossil fuel powered investment portfolio and an electricity generation that still draws on coal and gas and fossil fuels.
‘This isn’t about debating wind power or lithium batteries. This is about talking about our investment portfolio in a public briefing, where we get that independent advice on how we use ratepayers’ money wisely to invest in the energies of the future.’
He described the abandoned Renewable Energy Master Plan as a contract with the community. ‘We sorely need action on this front. Please, councillors, show some leadership, show some commitment to what we promised to our community, and deliver for our community’s future.’
The motion was then defeated by the combined votes of Crs Gordon, Rob, Bing, Jensen and Krieg.
After no further debate, a heavily modified motion put forward by Cr Big Rob was then passed, simply calling for a public briefing to review Lismore Council’s investment policy.