There are millions of dollars to be made in regional Australia if a fully green, zero-emissions economy is embraced, according to a leading economist.
Melbourne University's Professor Ross Garnaut, author of the Garnaut Climate Change Review, will be a keynote speaker at the Grampians New Energy Taskforce's Roadmap to Zero Emissions regional forum next week.
Joined by clean energy policy and technology expert Alan Pears, dozens of stakeholders from communities and industries across western Victoria will discuss how to decarbonise the region.
That sounds like a huge task, but there are mechanisms in place already that companies of any size can take advantage of, according to Professor Garnaut - this includes renewable energy and on-farm carbon sequestration, he said.
Already, the boom in renewable energy investment - lots more wind turbines - is forcing government agencies and regulators to think further ahead, so the network capacity can keep up, and the grid can be decentralised.
Professor Garnaut described the solar and wind resources in western Victoria as "unusual on a global scale", and should be utilised, in combination with other technology like batteries and efficient transmission.
"It creates a very big opportunity if we are able to use those resources well," he said.
"With good management, it will mean globally competitive power prices for energy usage for industry."
It's been remarked previously that farmers are among groups most active on climate change, and with the most to lose - Professor Garnaut said people in the agricultural industry, particularly primary producers, had some solutions available to maintain a sustainable business while also reducing emissions.
"(There are) very large opportunities for sequestering or storing carbon in soils, pastures, woodlands, or forests, and these opportunities are particularly rich in western Victoria," he said.
"Farmers would be very well paid for managing their properties that make use of these ways to store carbon.
"If we properly integrate these opportunities into a rational incentive system, then carbon sequestration would become a huge new source of income for regional Australia."
Proper investment now would also mean reliable and cheap electricity, he added, which would stimulate further investment.
"Water is a problem through much of western Victoria, and any of the development that can ease the water problem will require access to energy, to move water, to desalinate it, to process it in other ways, and to recycle it - that's all energy intensive," he said.
"The reduction in the cost of electricity that comes from utilisation of rich renewable energy resources (in western Victoria) - there's a lot of ways to get the water problem right, and energy is an important part of many approaches to dealing with the problem."
READ MORE: Ballarat's journey to carbon neutrality
That's part of the goal of GNeT's forum - the roadmap, which will be discussed by major stakeholders, will need to sustain businesses as well as develop new industries.
In a statement, GNeT's chairman Stuart Benjamin said the roadmap will help answer questions from the community as well as industry stakeholders.
"We have more than $3 billion worth of wind and solar construction projects in planning or under construction in our region already but where do we go from here, what can we do to become 100 per cent renewable and be a leading zero-carbon region?" he said.
"How can we leverage long-term regional benefit and new jobs by supporting the transition of the grid to a renewable energy system?"
The consequences of inaction are dire, Professor Garnaut warned.
"A zero emissions outcome is necessary for farming in southern Australia to have a future - without it, an increase of three or four degrees or more could lead to a shift in wind systems to bring rain in the growing seasons, so you get much less moisture, much reduced rainfall.
"The combination of less rainfall and hotter temperatures would mean much less moisture in the environment and a cruel effect on traditional elements of farming."
Having said that, initiatives like GNeT's roadmap were a good step on a local level.
"Australia as a whole is still a long way short of getting its act together on moving towards the sort of reduction in emissions that is our fair share of the global effort to leave a good environment for farming in Australia," he said.
"But the cause for optimism is that technology development and business models are showing us we can do it, and we can do it at low cost.
"Gradually awareness of the need to do it is spreading - we're a long away now, but there's reason to think we might get there - I won't be more optimistic than that."
The final Roadmap to Zero report is due in December.
The forum, a partnership between GNeT and the Committee for Ballarat funded by the state Department of Land, Water, Environment and Planning, will be held at the Mercure Ballarat on Friday, August 23 - register or submit comments online.
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