If western Victoria is going to go it alone on cutting emissions, what's the most realistic and sustainable way to do it?
That was one of the main questions at the Grampians New Energy Taskforce's Decarbonising Victoria forum on Friday.
More than 140 participants, including the state government, local councils, community groups, energy companies, and businesses large and small attended to hear new ideas from researchers and discuss how to work collaboratively to bring down emissions.
Keynote speaker Professor Ross Garnaut, an economist from Melbourne University, was a particular highlight for many of the attendees - action now to take advantage of renewable resources, with the right investments in technology and processes, could be very profitable, he said.
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said that economic viability was a key point.
"He left us with a final statement saying, 'if we do this quicker, we'll be richer'," he said.
"There's a really strong financial incentive in this space."
Combine that with the environmental and social benefits, and it was an exceptionally strong case - City of Ballarat councillor Belinda Coates said council's target of zero emissions and carbon neutrality fitted in well with what was discussed.
"Part of that action plan is working with community and business to strive towards that target as a whole of community," she said.
"There are a lot of benefits to be had if you're changing in that direction of low carbon, renewable energy - social, health benefits, and the potential for a lot of economic benefits too."
Big Ballarat employers like Mars and Selkirks attended or presented as well, with Australian Industry Group regional manager Jim Dannock noting the focus on affordable electricity solutions was certainly of interest.
"I think today there were a few industry people who got some really good insight into what's happening in that area," he said.
"From the point of view of industry, there's some significant difficulties with the rise in gas prices and energy prices, so they've got to be looking at opportunities to invest to try and manage those costs and remain competitive to keep industry in the local region."
All of this discussion and consultation will culminate in a the Roadmap to Zero Emissions, a document which will provide a blueprint for western Victoria into the future, as well as other communities.
The forum was opened by Victorian Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio, who said there was an exciting energy in the room.
"(The Roadmap provides a) model for not just the rest of the state but the rest of the country in terms of how regional communities can do so much in terms of setting a vision and articulating clear actions they want to take in controlling their future to reduce their carbon emissions, get to zero by 2050, and our government is absolutely in there with them," she said.
It's a big job for Beyond Zero Emissions, which is compiling the report.
Chief executive Vanessa Petrie said a highlight of the day was the discussions around agriculture - carbon sequestration and regenerative farming were interesting aspects that could affect people statewide.
"The Grampians-Ballarat region is a Victorian and national leader in moving to renewable energy, so there's that leadership that'll take it to the next step in different sectors," she said, noting the billions being invested in renewable energy infrastructure.
That will bring more sustainable jobs to regional areas, according to Stuart Benjamin, GNeT director.
He said he was surprised at the interest in community-driven energy projects.
"Whether that be by influencing government policy, supplying their own energy, or participating in community energy programs - that's something we're going to be doing a bit more work on to see how we can assist in that space," he said.
The final Roadmap to Zero Emissions report is expected to be released in December, with an interim draft report released for public comment within weeks.
Market operator needs more powers for summer: Minister
Victorian Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio has called for stronger powers for the national electricity market operator to ensure reliability in the summer.
Responding to Thursday's Australian Energy Market Operator report which noted Victoria faced a higher risk of blackouts this summer, Ms D'Ambrosio said if the organisation was able to arrange three-year contracts for extra power supply, Victorians could have more confidence as older generators become more difficult to maintain.
"The market operator then indicated that there are a series of rules changes that need to happen to give them greater scope to plan ahead because that's very constrained," she said.
"We're working closely to assist the market operator with whatever they may need."
Part of the difficulty is that some power plants in Victoria, all of which are privately-owned, are continuing to age - Ms D'Ambrosio compared them to the reliability of an older car.
"It's asking the question, are we going to be able to get in the car knowing it can get us through the summer without the radiator collapsing on us, for example, because I think the answer will be different depending on whether the car is two years old or 25 years old," she said.
"We don't own them - if they were a car, we don't know what's under the hood and we don't have the keys to the car."
Ms D'Ambrosio also criticised the federal government for not calling a national energy council meeting.
"We are all in agreement on this that we need to move quickly, doesn't matter if it's Liberal or Labor states, I met with my counterpart in NSW three weeks ago and we agreed a whole range of things need to happen," she said.
"There's one jurisdiction that's standing in the way, and that's the national government."
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