The Newstead Post Office

Victorian Labor has committed to making the town of Newstead, on the Loddon River, the state’s first “solar town”, though has been criticised for a lack of big-vision environmental policies.

The solar town deal would mean that Newstead residents would have 100 per cent renewable energy to power their homes and businesses by 2017, thanks to the roll-out of solar PV and energy storage systems.

Shadow minister for energy and resources Lily D’Ambrosio and Labor Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards yesterday (Monday) announced the party would give $200,000 to community group Newstead 2021 to draw up a master plan.

“Having been ignored for four years, Labor will work with the community in Newstead to help them achieve their goal of moving to renewable energy by 2017,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“Newstead will be a leading example of what can be achieved when locals and government work together. It will take an Andrews Labor Government for this to happen.”

She said households would also benefit by having cheaper energy bills.

Part of Labor’s commitment is to get the Essential Services Commission to inquire into the true value to the grid of distributed generation, while also ensuring small renewable energy projects have fair access to the grid, distribution businesses are more responsive to distributed energy proposals, and that energy retailers will not be able to discriminate against rooftop solar customers by charging extra supply fees.

Environment Victoria supportive

Environment Victoria welcomed the announcement, saying that it would provide a valuable template.

“The ALP’s commitment to removing barriers faced by small renewable energy projects is a positive step for Victoria,” Environment Victoria’s Safe Climate campaign manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said. “Where a community has the motivation to transition towards renewable energy, the Government needs to ensure that there are no regulatory obstacles in the way.”

He said the current rate solar owners were getting for exported electricity was too low at 8c/kWh, as the electricity was then being on-sold at around 25c/kWh.

“Once we understand the true value of this clean electricity, a fair price needs to be paid to those who generate it,” Dr Aberle said.

Labor needs to answer big energy questions

He said while the announcement was positive, Labor still had questions to answer on “the big energy questions”, namely on renewable energy targets, emissions reduction plans, ruling out new coal mines and closing down polluting ones like Hazelwood.

“With the G20 showing loud and clear that the rest of the world is taking climate change seriously, it is critical that the next Victorian Government position our state at the forefront of the global energy revolution,” he said.

A recent editorial in The Age said there was a “deafening silence” from the two major parties on environment policies, and much backtracking.

“The major political parties need to stop cowering behind contrived excuses about potential damage to the economy,” it said. “The real damage is done if we stand idly by and do nothing. We need to hear a lot more from [Premier] Napthine and Labor leader Daniel Andrews in the next two weeks about this fundamental issue.”