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Sun. May 26th, 2024

In a move to take some of the pressure off land use conflicts in regional areas, the Country Mayors Association of NSW are calling for State and Federal governments in increase rooftop solar installations in the city.

In the somewhat bizarre and conflicted announcement, the mayoral peak body says State and Federal Governments have not kept pace with the speed of renewable power construction in rural areas. The organisation says the swift pace of renewable transition is leading to massive land use and social conflict in regional areas, and their solution is a swift install of roof top solar… in the Sydney Metropolitan area.

It may be a purely political ploy, given the Country Mayors Association call was made as the Liddell coal fired power station near Muswellbrook was switched off.

Chairman of the Country Mayors Association and Gunnedah Shire Mayor Jamie Chaffey said the closure of the Liddell coal fired power station brings to the forefront many critical concerns, including the ongoing escalating cost of regional power to business and residencies, the looming concerns over access to base load power in the near future and the viability of Regional communities that rely on employment from the extraction and power generation from coal.

“The city and regions are reliant on each other, the food and fibre along with the minerals and energy produced in regional NSW is critical to the prosperity of the state; the majority supply of renewable energy should not be a burden on regional NSW,” Mayor Chaffey said.

“Regional NSW is doing the heavy lifting with massive solar farms now dotted throughout our communities, wind farms installed or under development in the most controversial locations that are dividing our communities and pitting neighbour against neighbour.”

“These renewable energy installations require the establishment of extremely expensive high voltage transmission towers to connect back into the grid, causing the escalation of the cost of power to Regional NSW,” he said.

It is not clear why the Mayors think that giving cheap roof top solar to city residents will ease power bill burden on their constituents, particularly given rural residents are more likely to have a roof that can support roof top solar. The Uralla and Walcha communities also have started exploring the possibility of their own community grids that would significantly reduce the cost of power to locals.

Mayor of Singleton Shire Council, Sue Moore acknowledged the Liddell closure will see no forced redundancies as some employees took early retirement and others moved over to Bayswater.

“However the communities of Singleton and Muswellbrook are very concerned where their affordable reliable power will come from as renewables are not coming online as expected,” she said.

“It is well known that there are not real jobs in renewables and at the end of the day the regional and rural areas will carry the burden of these renewable assets.”

“Further to this as the talk of coal mines winding back escalates it is feared that job losses will be inevitable and severe with no planning for new job creation,” Mayor Moore said.

Mayor of Muswellbrook Shire Council, Steve Reynolds acknowledged that Liddell Power Station needs to close.

“AGL have been very engaged with us around their workforce, and the fact there will be no forced redundancies is somewhat comforting from an employment perspective,” Mr Reynolds said.

“We know that the intensive jobs we see now in our region are most definitely not there in the renewable sector,” Mayor Reynolds said.

Mayor of Armidale Regional Council, Sam Coupland, said the closure of Liddell underscores the push toward renewable energy.

“When fully developed the New England Renewable Energy Zone will be the largest in Australia which brings with it significant challenges as well as some opportunities.”

“Of real concern to our region is that the renewable projects are being developed with scant adherence to the somewhat outdated wind and solar guidelines.”

“This is creating unnecessary yet significant social dislocation and community angst, all of which could have been minimised if the transition to renewable energy were better planned and the window to this transition not reduced by government policies that lead to the early closure of power stations such as Liddell,” Mayor Coupland said.

Having operated for 52 years, Liddell is not being closed early. One worker at the power station told the ABC it was ’20 years past its use-by date’. Multiple experts and analysis have also said the closure will have little impact on the grid, particularly as the plant has been operating well below capacity for some time. The closure was announced 8 years ago in 2015, giving both the system and the community time to transition to a low-carbon industrial energy hub.

Across the New England Renewable Energy Zone, most developments are proceeding with little controversy. While there are notable exceptions such as the Winterbourne Wind development, a number of large developments such as the New England Solar farm near Uralla enjoy a high level of social licence and broad community support. Concerns about the cumulative impact remain but are decreasing as various development proposals are withdrawn or fail during the assessment process.

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