Energy Security Strategy – Bathurst Regional Council concept paper
This concept paper has been prepared by Skillset, Sunny Afternoons and Rural Green Energy. BCCAN was not involved in developing this concept paper and is publishing it here for the community’s information.
Up until the 1960’s and 70’s, regional centres were responsible for their own energy supply. Indeed, the supply of energy to residences and businesses was a service delivered through local government, much the same as water and sewerage. Each Local Government Authority (LGA)j had, and has, a major connector and a network of smaller power lines radiating from a central ‘hub’ out to the various smaller populations.
Post WWII State Governments developed large scale coal fired generators and a significant distribution network which, with Federal support, is now one of largest in the world, allowing energy to be ‘shifted’ vast distances and providing reliable supply. In the first decade of this century the energy regulator allowed network providers to recoup around $50 billion spent upgrading these ‘poles and wires’ to meet a projected increase in energy demand. In-fact since 2010 energy use has declined due to the uptake of energy efficiency programs, the decline in energy intensive industry, residential price sensitivity and roof-top solar.
At the same time the cost of renewable energy technologies has fallen to the extent that ‘grid parity’ was reached some years ago for solar photovoltaics and now the key component of battery storage is also experiencing a similar cost reduction curve. In addition, a range of smart technologies and disruptive business models are dramatically changing the energy delivery market which now has more than 60 retailers in NSW alone and a privatised network.
The economic and social implications of this circumstance are profound. In less populous areas “Stand alone” solar-battery systems are less expensive than connecting to the grid. Commercial solar systems typically ‘pay-back’ in well under 5 years and medium scale (~2-5 Megawatt) solar systems are commercially attractive to investors, particularly when linked to one of the newer ‘friendly’ retailers.
In short, we are witnessing an energy revolution of similar scale and impact that occurred with invention of the steam turbine.
Significant sums of money currently leave regional LGAs in the form of energy bills. For example, in Bathurst, with a 30 to 60 Megawatt demand, this amounts to around $60 million pa (not including gas). Arguably this money could be better spent locally and along with the added benefits of securing reliable back-up in grid outages and locking in cost certainty, the economic impacts could be significant.
Implications for Local Government
It is now technically, legally and economically feasible for Local Government to become involved in energy provision in a range of capacities, including as a generator and retailer. Options include:
- Offset costs of key infrastructure with on-site solar systems (reduce amount of purchased electricity)
- Provision of energy for social outcomes / reallocation of funds through reduced operation costs
- Provision of energy to attract and support business/industry. Power Purchase agreements for tenants, new developments, etc.
- Income stream through micro-grids or retailer mechanisms
Issues to consider
- Optimal size and location of plant
- Prioritising critical infrastructure
- LEP – potential land use synergies and/or conflicts. Legislative consequences, zoning, etc.
- Micro-grids. Small privately/council owned transmission lines vs network fees
- Different CAPEX funding and ownership models
- Council as energy retailer
- Community engagement and assistance in social/financial hardship
- Alternative renewable sources eg. Bio hubs, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal
- Battery storage – location and scale
- Energy efficiency measures
- Local employment – having the skills to install and maintain locally
- Partnerships with major users and attraction of other industry
- Energy retailing – finding the right provider for individual needs
- Smart Meters – accessing data for decision making
Other Energy Sources – (including for heat or gas, not necessarily electricity)
- Hydro – the potential for storage/peaking micro-hydro plants on hills or mines
- Wind – possible smaller scale wind generation
- Bio-energy – growing/collection/processing of organic matter for power/ fuel / gas / fertiliser
- Geothermal – the use of ground temperature for space heating and cooling
Any energy conversation should start with demand reduction as this is well established as the most cost-effective strategy. A range of programs exist to educate and change behaviour as well as substitute equipment for energy efficient alternatives. Examples include:
- Energy efficiency standards – eg buildings and equipment
- Building management – retrofits and behaviour change
- Street lighting – technology substitution
- Water management – reduced pumping volume
- Transport – Electric Vehicles and biofuels
- Technical solutions – eg voltage optimisation, Variable Speed Drives, timers, sensors
- Behaviour change programs – consumer and workplace
It is possible to generate a high-level strategy based on the above points quite quickly however it would also be wise to drill down into specific opportunities for Bathurst Regional Council. This would involve site visits and access to key documentation such as energy bills, meter interval data, property plans and networks plans.