The federal minister responsible for supporting energy resources has labelled towns like Yackandandah aiming to become 100 per cent reliant on solar energy as living in a “fantasy land”.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan visited Wodonga on Wednesday to speak with business about protecting jobs in food production and manufacturing during a time of rising power costs.
He said the Victorian government’s goal for 50 per cent renewable energy was “mad” and should be done in a more managed way.
Asked by The Border Mail if community group Totally Renewable Yackandandah could expect federal government support in its goal to have 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022, Senator Canavan said the idea would not work for towns “when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine”.
“A factory producing honey needs to have power on most or if not all of the time and therefore it cannot simply be 100 per cent renewables – that is a fantasy land and we need to operate in the real world and be pragmatic,” he said.
“We need to be realistic about what we can do and we will need a mix of coal, gas and renewables going forward if we want to have hundreds of jobs in the manufacturing sector stay alive.”
TRY announced a new partnership with AusNet Services earlier this month, involving a scheme to build a “mini grid”, where solar energy could be stored in batteries at homes, which could be rolled out across Yackandandah in five years.
Senator Canavan said the best way to improve wages was to have cheap energy.
“The consistent message I’ve heard from businesses across the country is they are facing serious challenges with the increase in power prices – they are not objecting to more investment in renewables, but don’t see how they can go to 50 per cent renewables and maintain their businesses,” he said.
TRY would not directly comment on Senator Canavan’s statement that renewable energy groups lived in a fantasy land, but defended the goal to become 100 per cent reliant on solar.
Group member Ben McGowan said AusNet Services’ preliminary advice was that it could be possible for Yackandandah to generate up to 90 per cent of the town's energy needs through a community mini grid.
“The key ingredient to the mini grid is battery technology, which is a technology that is both rapidly improving and dropping in price,” he said.
“The addition of batteries to the mini grid means that Yackandandah residents and businesses will be able to use renewable energy around the clock.
“For the final 10 per cent of TRY's renewable energy target, it is possible to install a solar and battery plant somewhere in close proximity to the town, so we believe that we're on track to reach our 100 per cent target by 2022.”
Yackandandah does not have a large manufacturing industry, but Mr McGowan said the town’s biggest power users and employers, including the hospital and Foodworks supermarket, had supported the goal by installing large rooftop solar systems.
Spokesman for 350.org Cambell Close, who advocates for reducing carbon emissions, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put the country’s climate at risk by listening to “fringe elements” like Senator Canavan instead of helping with the transition to more renewable energy.
”It is sad that it is left to local communities like Yackandandah, which has pledged to go renewable by 2022, and local councils like Albury and Wodonga, who have pledged to shift their money away from fossil fuels, to bear the load of shifting to a clean energy future," he said.