I'm furious that serious issues are being co-opted by politicians to stir up anti-renewable sentiment in regional communities instead of working together to implement solutions - especially considering regional communities stand to benefit the most from well-planned clean energy projects.
As director of the Queensland Conservation Council, I see evidence of climate change and nature destruction all too frequently. We need to both protect nature and rapidly repower our polluting energy system with new solar, wind and storage projects to ensure a safe climate future.
Unfortunately, we are seeing some conflicts arise as renewable energy projects are developed through Australia's inadequate planning framework, which has never properly protected nature, First Nations heritage or communities.
However, Coalition MPs such as Barnaby Joyce and Michelle Landry, both of whom are vocally against clean energy development, are drumming up support for anti-renewable rallies. This anti-renewable hysteria risks the benefits that new solar, wind and storage projects can deliver for their constituents.
In Queensland, the state government's plan to replace publicly owned coal-fired power stations with clean energy will create nearly 100,000 jobs by 2040, mostly in regional communities.
Creating regional clean manufacturing hubs could be a major source of future-proof regional employment. In fact, research from Beyond Zero Emissions found that 11,000 new ongoing jobs could be created in central Queensland by 2032 through investment in new clean industries.
In terms of power prices, our research shows that existing solar and wind farms in Queensland brought down wholesale power prices last year to the extent that they effectively saved all homes in the state $100. We also found that supporting more renewable energy development would save Queenslanders $1.3 billion by 2025.
How is standing in the way of new jobs and lower bills defending regional communities?
On her public Facebook page Michelle Landry even went so far as to brag that she doesn't have rooftop solar, which is strangely out of step with her constituents given that 47,000 solar systems have been installed in her electorate.
On average, a house in regional Queensland will save $1600 in 2023-24 by having rooftop solar, so the benefits to Capricornia reach almost $75 million. And yet, we're living in a country where politicians are supporting protests against clean technology that their constituents love because it saves them money.
Turning the renewable energy rollout into a political football is not protecting our way of life or the places we love, it's creating a dangerous division that will leave all of us, including regional communities, worse off.
We can simultaneously protect our biodiversity and prime agricultural land while transitioning to a clean energy system. The solution is early and substantial community and First Nations engagement, and a planning framework that protects nature and delivers community benefits.
In Queensland, this looks like updating the solar and wind planning codes to standardise community engagement and make sure projects are not approved in high-value ecosystems. On a state and national level, it looks like governments resourcing mapping to determine where is and isn't appropriate for development and making sure that's enforced through the planning process.
In fact, many of these solutions are already being implemented. The Queensland government has released its renewable energy zone roadmap, which includes greater regional consultation, and are currently reviewing the wind code. The federal government has committed to developing bio-regional plans that will guide developers on where is appropriate to build projects.
It's important that this work is done quickly and well because we're running out of time to address the climate crisis and have a snowball's chance in hell of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The last thing we need now is for politicians to put their own political interests ahead of regional communities by fighting for division instead of solutions. We all lose if we don't get this right.
- Stephanie Gray is director of the Queensland Conservation Council.