OPINION

How solar developments can help regenerate regional Australia

How solar developments can help regenerate regional Australia | Our Future

As a former farmer and now hobby cattle farmer who has struggled through multiple droughts and ever changing rainfall patterns, I am acutely aware of concerns over the future sustainability of farming in this country.

It is imperative that farmers consider the opportunity to diversify their income and drought-proof their farms.

That's why in 2017 myself and business partner David Mailler formed Meralli Solar in the NSW Tablelands, to focus on building solar farms which can utilise the existing medium voltage network.

To date, our customers have typically been groups of farmers, ranging from chicken farmers to cotton growers.

We have now installed around 40 megawatts of solar farms - enough to power about 12,000 homes - on various properties in Queensland, NSW, Tasmania and South Australia.

Solar developments can provide huge opportunities to regional Australia.

As the world moves to renewable energy, farmers and regional communities are ideally situated to take advantage of the economic benefits associated with these mid-sized projects that can plug directly into readily available substations; instead of needing expensive high-voltage power lines built.

There are about 140,000 substations across NSW alone, meaning there's a chance for this technology to be installed across regional Australia, which has been in economic decline for 40 years.

Together, with a diversification of the generation risk, the opportunities for these communities are only limited by our imaginations.

It is the small to medium businesses that develop off the back of these solar developments - the shops, cafes and small factories - that can bring the real economic invigoration to regional areas.

The real economic renewal will come from these long term businesses.

But the federal government needs to do more to facilitate the transition and support regional communities.

The decline in energy consumption during the coronavirus pandemic is making it a challenging time to encourage people to invest in solar farms and renewable energy, and the lack of vision and engagement with renewable energy from the federal government is as frustrating as it is bewildering.

This stagnant approach is not only letting farmers down, but also all regional Australians.

It's time action is taken to capitalise on renewable energy for our farmers, rural communities, economy and planet.

Dr Methuen Morgan is a former farmer and now solar construction company director living in Armidale, NSW. He also lectures at the University of New England in Environmental Psychology and Research Methods & Statistics.

This story How solar developments can help regenerate regional Australia | Our Future first appeared on The Canberra Times.