Does it matter how electricity is generated, provided when you flick the switch the light comes on?
There is a groundswell of public opinion that it very much matters.
Traditional electric power generation has been by burning fossil fuels: mainly coal and gas.
However, over the past few years there has been an intense debate about our nation's transition away from coal and gas to various renewable energy sources.
Renewable energies are clean and green, unlimited and becoming an increasingly economically competitive energy source. Unlike fossil fuels renewable energies produce no greenhouse gases - the cause of climate change.
Growth in renewable energies seems inevitable. For example, in 2015, renewable energies produced 14.6 per cent of Australia's electricity. By 2020 this had increased to 27.7 per cent; an increase of 90 per cent over the six years.
Two of the main benefits of adopting renewable energies is a greener future and jobs.
With a decrease of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a greener future is possible. There will be challenges should Australia join other countries and adopt a target of Net Zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
So far, the Morrison government has been reluctant to embrace this target even after pressure was recently applied at the Group of Seven (G7) Summit held in Cornwall, England, of which Australia was included as a visitor.
However, the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions are enormous. Achieving such a target should keep the planet below the 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This target was established by the Paris Accord in 2016.
A reduction in global warming will diminish the severe impacts of global warming resulting in fewer droughts, storms, floods and other extreme weather events.
There is one other major benefit of adopting renewable energies: jobs. Over recent years it has been shown that renewable forms of energy generation can create better jobs and more of them.
In 2019, there were 26,850 people employed in renewable energy jobs in Australia. This represented an increase of 120 per cent over the past ten years.
According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) by 2035 the renewable energy sector could employ as many as 46,000 people.
As a micro-example of what is possible across Australia there has been a quiet revolution taking place in Goulburn over the past few years: one that taps into the possibilities of solar and battery powered renewable energy.
Frustrated by a lack of interest from the federal government, Goulburn residents and businesses decided to take it into their own hands to reap the opportunities presented by solar energy.
They came together to build a local community-owned solar farm, supplying power to the Goulburn community and for the profits to stay within the local neighbourhood.
This community-owned solar farm is one of the first of its kind in NSW.
Community Energy 4 Goulburn (CE4G) had its origin when Goulburn locals attended a sustainable energy forum with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage in 2015.
CE4G members believe that a transition to low-carbon energy production will help to reduce Goulburn's carbon footprint; something that is urgently required at a local and national level.
The project was originally an initiative of The Goulburn Group (TGG), a not-for-profit community action group dedicated to the sustainable economic, social and environmental development in the Goulburn Region.
A group of seven dedicated, passionate and tireless volunteers formed a committee to successfully steer the project from its inception through to the final stages. In 2016 they structured the CE4G as an independent, not-for-profit incorporated association in its own right.
They also formed the Goulburn Energy Community Cooperative specifically to own and operate the Goulburn solar farm.
The site for the solar farm is Bridge Street, North Goulburn on approximately 2.2 hectares of industrial land generously donated by Divall's Earthmoving and Bulk Haulage.
Goulburn district people were offered the opportunity to become co-owners of the solar farm by becoming a member of the cooperative. For a minimum shareholding investment of 400 shares worth $1 each the local community responded enthusiastically. There are presently over 200 local cooperative members/investors.
The benefit of a cooperative structure is that each member has only one vote regardless of the size of her or his shareholding. It is a most democratic system of decision making. As well, investors have the final say as to how the project is managed, and a share in the cooperative's profits.
Construction of the solar farm by Komo Energy commenced in early 2021 and its anticipated completion date will be late 2021.
The Goulburn Community Energy Cooperative solar farm will consist of 4,000 panels generating 1.8Mw which is sufficient to generate power to approximately 450 homes.
In 2020, CE4G secured a $2.1 million grant from the NSW Government. The grant is part of the state government's Regional Community Energy Fund program. This generous and most-welcomed grant allowed CE4G to add battery storage to the solar farm.
This is an exciting proposal for battery back-up provides renewably sourced power to be available on a reliable and constant basis.
The Goulburn community-owned solar farm reveals that by thinking globally and acting locally a group of like-minded people can produce wide-ranging social, economic and environmental benefits for the local community.
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