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RAPAD: unlocking renewable energy in Central Western Queensland

Thursday, 14th June, 2018

The seven councils that form the Central Western Queensland Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) have a bold plan – to become an energy superpower of the low carbon world.

By Nathalie Cattaneo

The goal is twofold – contribute to the state’s renewable energy target of 50% and channel the transformative economic and social benefits back into the region.    

Renewable energy is by no means a new endeavour for the region, with a slew of projects completed, underway or in the planning stage:  

  • This year, Canadian Solar completed construction a 15 MW solar farm in Longreach – this project will shortly be switched on and begin supplying to the grid.  
  • The Elecnor Barcaldine 25MW photovoltaic solar project, located approximately five kilometres east of the central western Queensland township of Barcaldine, is currently in the commissioning phase. The project is expected to generate approximately 53,500 megawatt hours of clean, renewable power each year. Reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 50,000 tonnes per annum (CO2 equivalent).
  • Also in Barcaldine, an 11MW yellow dot facility brings the total to 36MW in Barcaldine 
  • Winton is currently constructing a geothermal power station with the aim of supplying 310 kW to assist in keeping power costs down and produce more reliable and efficient baseload power 
  • Birdsville Planning is advanced on a project to replace the existing 85 kW system with a new plant expected to increase net output to between 150-200 kW 

Joining forces with Professor Garnaut 

This April, Professor Ross Garnaut travelled to Western Queensland to talk renewable energy with councils and the potential capacity for large scale solar projects in the area.  

The visit followed Professor Garnaut’s participation in a RAPAD renewable energy forum which saw its vision to generate Queensland’s electricity needs, and bring transformative benefit to the region, endorsed by all in attendance. 

Cr Rob Chandler, RAPAD Chair, Barcaldine Regional Council Mayor said, “it is simply fantastic to have someone like Professor Garnaut not only endorse our regional vision but then come up and spend time with councils discussing how we can make it happen.  It is a real coup to have him and his team up here on our patch.” 

“It is a really exciting time to be in the west, we have an enormous resource in the region and it seems we have a genuine opportunity to create reliable cheap energy, create demand, create jobs, and create transformative change.  And that’s what it’s really all about, bringing people and jobs into to the region.” 

Who is Professor Ross Garnaut? 

Ross Garnaut is an economist whose career has been built around the analysis of and practice of policy connected to development, economic policy and international relations in Australia, Asia and the Pacific. 

Professor Garnaut was author of the Garnaut Climate Change review 2008, reporting to the Prime Minister, all State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers. It is a key in his role as Distinguished Fellow of the University of Melbourne Energy Institute when the institute provided advice on energy security to the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel as part of the Finkel Review – set up immediately following the South Australian Blackout in 2016. 

He’s held a number of influential positions including Senior Economic Advisor to Bob Hawke, Ambassador to China and Chairman of the Primary Industry Bank of Australia, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne in addition to his role as President of Zen Energy – a company specialising in renewable energy solutions.   

Unlocking growth 

Professor Garnaut’s visit to the region was part of a broader plan the region has that is outlined in the RAPAD Pathfinder Project Report – commissioned by RAPAD and supported by the Queensland Government.  The plan outlines six potential priority investment areas to secure the regions long-term growth prospects – including renewable energy.  

The report predicts that if the RAPAD region were to meet the State’s renewable energy target of 50%, with residential households and small business self-consuming energy rather than feeding back into the grid, it stands to generate a saving of more than $70 million in foregone community service obligation (CSO) subsidy payments out to 2031 (CSO is the annual subsidy paid by the State Government to Ergon to ensure regional consumers pay no more for electricity than those in South East Queensland). 

Furthermore, eliminating limits to residential solar generation restrictions and allowing larger systems that the current 3.5kW standard has to potential to save Queensland State Government $5.8 million per annum in CSO subsidies.  


Rising to the challenge 

RAPAD’s renewable energy plan and pathfinder project report has been produced not only to meet state and national energy needs but also to tackle the social and economic issues directly affecting Central West Queensland.  

At the top of the list; depopulation.  

In the last Census report, population had decreased by 12.5% in Central West Queensland.  The RAPAD Pathfinder Project Report suggests that whilst the area has strengths and potential in high productivity, strong agricultural viability and world-class tourist attractions, there were some obstacles to attracting and keeping people in the region.  

“Constraints to growth in the RAPAD region are highlighted with 37.5 per cent of jobs at risk of digital disruption, ageing population and ageing infrastructure with constrained investment capacity to stimulate growth.”   

Where to from here? 

As a result of the RAPAD Renewable Energy Forum and Professor Garnaut’s visit, RAPAD have outlined some key actions to further propel renewable energy investment in the area: 

Undertake project planning (scoping study and business case) to take this vision to execution; 

Establish an advisory steering group; 

Ensure development includes both value added industries and industry development not only adding power into the grid; and 

RAPAD to lead and facilitate a renewable energy boom for the region. 

Recent census data highlights that the central west is in significant trouble with drought, population decline and loss of businesses seriously impacting on the ability to prosper.  RAPAD, says Morgan Gronold, RAPAD Senior Regional Development Manager, cannot make it rain but it can enable a different type of thinking to turn regional advantages into viable opportunities.  

“With the best solar resource in eastern Australia and great people and companies now involved, we feel renewable energy has the power to provide new jobs, new people and a new future for our region.  

“This may begin with modest prospects, large enough to make a local difference and get the ball rolling, but where we are genuinely focussed is beyond the horizon, to delivering transformative benefit.  

“More than simply providing large scale green power but creating new industries, new jobs and new infrastructure across our seven shires to ensure a prosperous future for the RAPAD region and outback Queensland is assured.” 

Key stats

RAPAD: The Central Western Queensland Remote Area and Planning Development Board  

Made up of seven councils: Barcaldine Regional Council, Barcoo Shire Council, Blackall-Tambo Regional Council, Boulia Shire Council, Diamantina Shire Council, Longreach Regional Council and Winton Shire Council. 

Aim: foster, facilitate and promote the sustainable growth and development of our Central Western Queensland region. 

RAPAD Board: 

Cr Rob Chandler (Mayor -Barcaldine Regional Council) – Chairman  
Cr David Arnold – RAPAD CEO 
Cr Bruce Scott OAM (Mayor – Barcoo Shire Council) 
Cr Andrew Martin (Mayor – Blackall-Tambo Regional Council) 
Cr Ed Warren (Mayor – Longreach Regional Council) 
Cr Rick Britton (Mayor – Boulia Shire Council) 
Cr Geoff Morton OAM (Mayor - Diamantina Shire Council) 
Cr Gavin Baskett (Mayor – Winton Shire Council Mayor) 

Article from the June-July Council Leader magazine

Local Government Association of Queensland
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