Funding program launched for remote renewables

Renewable energy projects that could dramatically cut diesel use by remote communities and mining companies will benefit from $400 million in funding from the Federal Government.

The Regional Australia’s Renewables (RAR) program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which seeks to replace the usage of diesel in remote off-grid parts of the country with renewable energy options such as solar and wind power.

The initiative is expected to produce 150MW of electricity within five years, and the plan is already expected to lead to the creation of two large-scale renewable energy plants with capacities of 10MW or higher.

The funding program specifically targets off-grid and fringe-of-grid areas in Australia, with rural communities also able to apply to remote industrial operations such as mines.

The Community RAR program will be aimed at electricity distributors, with a view to developing energy storage such as community electricity grids. The Industry RAR program will look to providing assistance with the development of renewable energy projects in off-grid and fringe-of-grid locations.

Federal Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray said there is great potential for the development of renewable energy usage in remote parts of the country, including in the mineral-rich Pilbara region in Western Australia, where energy demand is rapidly rising.

“It’s no secret that in Western Australia we have a lot of remote areas and meeting our growing energy demand is a big issue,” he said.

“Where there is no grid-connected electricity, many communities and industries truck-in fuels to generate energy.”

Projects applying for funding from ARENA under the new program must generate at least one megawatt of capacity and come online by June 30, 2018. ARENA has indicated it may be willing to support standalone projects requiring investment in excess of $20 million if they promise real positive change for Australia’s renewable energy landscape.

Mr Gray has also announced the launch of another ARENA-led initiative, which will direct $60 million in funds to the sharing of information and data within the renewable energy industry in order to facilitate its expansion.

Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said the announcement of the program in early June was a welcome boost for the renewable energy industry, and demonstrated the enormous potential for renewable energy to make a positive impact in regional and remote communities.

“We’ve known for quite some time that renewable energy is a viable alternative to diesel-fuelled power generation, but up until now the industry hasn’t had the necessary backing to give it the jump-start it needs to get rolling,” Mr Marsh said.

“The cost of technologies such as off-grid solar is actually below that of diesel in many countries. The problem is that the up-front investment for solar is higher, but after that the fuel is free. In comparison, companies will continue paying dearly to operate diesel generators for many years.

“This injection of $400 million into new projects to help regional and remote communities move towards cleaner, safer, and often cheaper forms of energy is welcome news for both the industry and the people living in those communities.

“The opportunities for large industrial users like mining companies to significantly cut their operating expenses by switching to off-grid renewable energy are huge, and we welcome this move by ARENA to assist projects in this area,” Mr Marsh said.