What are we doing locally?

UNDER THE LONG shadow of Australia’s fossil fuel lobby and their elected status quo apologists, there has been a depressing reluctance on the part of the Turnbull government to breathe real oxygen into the energy debate and lead Australia’s transition [or indeed visibly enter the stage of action, hence our headline about the character who never appears]. But an increasing number of local councils and a few state governments now just ‘get it’ when it comes to climate action and are refusing to sit and wait for federal leadership. A recent report from the Australian Climate Council, authored by Lesley Hughes, Tim Flannery and Will Steffen (Local leadership: Tracking Local Government Progress on Climate Change), confirms that Australian communities have been on the frontline for a long time, and many jurisdictions are now stepping up actions to mitigate the risk and reduce the impact of climate change. See https://www. climatecouncil.org.au/cpp-report

Support for switching The report also introduces a ‘Cities Power Partnership’ showcasing councils and communities that are switching to renewable energy. The ACC is providing access to resources, incentives, and publicity for councils to increase their use of renewable energy. Some towns and cities, and some states, have already committed to 100% renewable energy targets, including Newcastle, Yackandandah, Uralla, Darrebin, Yarra, Byron Shire, Cockburn, and notably of course, ACT and South Australia – both heavily invested in wind power as suitable in their environments.

How it’s done

The small Victorian town of Newstead, for example, has boldly committed to a 100% renewable energy target by the end of this year. With $200,000 in funding from the Victorian Government, Newstead plans to rent commercial and residential roof space in the local community, install solar panels, and generate 1.7 MW of solar power. The townsfolk are confident their system will produce much more electricity than they require, and plan to sell the excess back to the grid. The Victorian town of Morland has already developed an environmentally sound, integrated transport strategy to change travel behaviour in the region. The strategy includes car sharing services, electric vehicle charging stations, and the integration of electric vehicles into the council fleet.

The Queensland government (yes, the same folk who are selling out the reef to Adani Corp) wants to build one of the world’s longest electric highways. The 2,000 km highway would connect 18 cities, from Brisbane to Tully with a series of electric vehicle fast-charging stations. Creating jobs, a $3 million contract to build and supply the charging stations has been awarded to electronics company Tritium. Use of the charging stations will initially be free. I have to think there is still a large smelly pachyderm in this space – will the electric highway be powered by coal? I hope not. So, what is happening in / around QTown and the QPRC region? Last week I contacted QPRC spokesperson Ricky Tozer and asked him if council would like to showcase any high impact climate actions they are currently working on or considering.

For example, is council promoting the use of clean energy or energy efficiency in their building and development approvals process, or encouraging the development of larger scale clean energy projects? Is council interested in developing rapid public transport alternatives between its regional population areas, or providing infrastructure for schemes such as carpooling, congestion charging, or parking restrictions? Or providing charging stations for electric vehicles, similar to Canberra and Goulburn and/or integrate electric vehicles into the council fleet? Does Council intend to link all of its land use planning decisions to climate action? What QPRC has done to date QPRC had no immediate answers to these questions [and it should be kept in mind that the council makeup will change dramatically in September]. But a quick review of the QPRC website reveals a number of initiatives are already in progress. For example, there is a “Sustainability Action Squad” responsible for facilitating the integration of sustainability outcomes into planning and operational processes. They use online software such as Planet Footprint to collect and analyse data on council energy, fuel, and water cost consumption. http://www.planetfootprint.com.au

Council has also installed solar panels across council buildings and facilities, and are implementing intelligent LED and solar panel lighting systems in our city parks. There is a recycling unit somewhere, turning unwanted food waste into bio-fertiliser for use on council grounds, and worm farms also have been installed to reduce internal organic waste generation. Finally, and possibly in response to the well-deserved drubbing QPRC received for the unpopular Ellerton Drive Extension project (EDE), council has announced that it will develop an integrated transport plan; sometime this year. As an enthusiastic EDE drubber, I will be following this with great interest.

This article originally appeared in the District Bulletin on 1 August 2017

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