This article was originally published in the Canberra Times here.
The operators of a 2.3 megawatt solar farm in Canberra’s east say their farm will “save lives”, in spite of a Liberal MP’s claim renewable energy will lead to deaths this winter.
Thirty-five councils representing three million Australians signed up to the Cities Power Partnership at Mount Majura Solar Farm in Canberra on Wednesday.
The agreement sees town and cities across Australia promise action on climate change at a local level in the face of federal government paralysis on the issue.
Climate Council chief professor Tim Flannery said federal inaction had created “true leadership”.
“What we seeing is people stepping up to the plate saying if you won’t do it, we’ll do it,” Professor Flannery said.
Climate Change Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie believed local action could create the “momentum that’s required to tackle climate change”.
“There’s been an impasse at a federal government level for many years now so it becomes the responsibility then of local leaders to be the heroes of this story and say ‘You know what? We’re going to take matters into our own hands’,” Ms McKenzie said.
The agreement comes a week after chairman of the federal government’s energy and environment committee Craig Kelly claimed people were afraid to heat their homes as a result of renewable energy pushing up the cost of power.
“People will die,” Mr Kelly told the ABC’s AM program.
But Lane Crockett – head of renewable infrastructure from the Melbourne-based Impact Investment Group, which owns and operates the Mt Majura Solar farm – said because their farm offered an alternative to coal-fired power, it would spare lives and reduce the rate of heart, lung and respiratory diseases.
“Today in Australia still about 80 per cent of our energy is produced by coal-fired power and coal-fired power causes death and illnesses to people who live around those communities,” Mr Crockett said.
“When we produce electricity from a solar farm such as Mt Majura, it off sets energy that would have otherwise been produced fro those facilities and so we’ve estimated the impact of the Mt Majura solar farm, we estimate that over its lifetime it will save two lives and it will save over 1000 illnesses.”
ACT climate change minister Shane Rattenbury said Mr Kelly’s comments were further evidence of why local-level partnerships were needed to fight climate change.
“What’s actually pushing up prices in Australia is uncertainty, a lack of policy direction from the federal government has caused that uncertainty and a lack of investment,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“The comments made last week about renewables driving fatalities in Australia are simply silly and they’ve been roundly criticised for the silly comments they were.
“What we need is a serious discussion in Australia and it’s great to see councils and state and territory governments getting involved and driving action where the federal government is dithering.”
Local government areas that opt into the Cities Power Partnership choose five of 50 possible actions, which could include setting renewable targets, starting up grants or incentives or transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Mr Rattenbury said Canberra would likely mentor other towns and cities as the city was already “well advanced down the path”.