Spencer Gulf cities host renewable-energy conference

UNITED: Clare McLaughlin, left, Brett Benbow and Mayor Leon Stephens represent councils involved in a renewable-energy conference in Adelaide.
UNITED: Clare McLaughlin, left, Brett Benbow and Mayor Leon Stephens represent councils involved in a renewable-energy conference in Adelaide.

The transformation of the Upper Spencer Gulf as a renewable energy powerhouse has taken centre stage in Adelaide.

This happened at a major conference dedicated to the region and renewable energy technologies that are rapidly emerging.

The Spencer Gulf Renewable Energy Conference featured presentations from renewable-energy companies, market analysts, the Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla councils and the state government.

Chairman of the Spencer Gulf Cities Association and Mayor Leon Stephens spoke at the conference at Stamford Plaza.

He said later the event had provided a great opportunity to showcase the region and its potential, but also reinforced the importance of gaining good community support.

"Genuine engagement with council and the community is really important - you don't get a social licence by ticking a box. You have to earn it," he said.

Whyalla Mayor Clare McLaughlin said the region had much to offer and that she was excited about the future.

"As a region reliant on energy-intensive enterprise such as steel manufacturing, lead and metal smelting and mining, the Upper Spencer Gulf becomes more and more attractive as the price of renewable energy falls and reliability improves," she said.

"The renewable energy projects we already know about in the region are just the tip of the iceberg.

"We have huge potential with a wide range of technology - pumped hydro, solar thermal, solar photo-voltaic, 'big' batteries, wind and hydrogen."

Port Augusta Mayor Brett Benbow said the wide range of renewable energy technologies proposals made the region attractive to more investment and opened opportunities for research and testing new energy technologies.

"We want to develop a really strong local workforce in this industry and gain the benefit of having the education, training and research opportunities also delivered locally, through initiatives such as our UniHub," he said.

Mr Benbow said that while there were positives, there also needed to be greater local input and control over renewable energy development.

"We really want renewable energy companies to work more closely with us to contribute to local community development and amenity in a more strategic, coordinated and meaningful way.

"Councils often have a limited role as many renewable energy development approvals are taken out of our hands and dealt with directly by the government."

The region's cities joined a call from many neighbouring Mid North councils which want the government to allow councils to collect rates from renewable energy companies, as is the case in other states.

"These large renewable energy developments are exempt from valuation for rating purposes, despite there being an impact on ratepayers and council infrastructure," Mr Benbow said.

"We don't think it is fair that our residents and other businesses in our district all contribute to helping to grow and maintain our communities, but a multi-million dollar renewable energy company does not.

"We also need to be more sensible about where some of this big visual development happens.

"It is really important that we have the right development in the right location.

"We don't want to see negative impact on residents or existing industries such as tourism."