Dan Cass, a director of the World Wind Energy Award-winning Hepburn Wind farm, thinks Australia can learn from President Obama’s renewable energy initiatives. In the following blog, Consultant Dan looks at how policy makers are using smart grid technology and renewable energy ‘cooperatives’ to modernise the Unites States’ electricity system:
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsac has announced a significant milestone for America, with the investment of a quarter of a billion dollars in smart grid technology in rural areas.
Secretary Vilsac gave a detailed announcement of the locations and programs that have been supported through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):
The $269 million in loan guarantees announced today are provided by USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The funding helps electric utilities upgrade, expand, maintain and replace rural America’s electric infrastructure. USDA Rural Development also funds energy conservation and renewable energy projects.
Smart grids are the future of energy, because they use the internet to connect up millions of consumers and producers of energy, maximising efficiency and reliability.
This is a huge leap forwards from the nineteenth century baseload, coal-fired generation model that is holding us back in Australia.
The beauty of renewable energy is that the fuel is free and the generator can be local. We can install our solar energy generators on each building that needs electricity, where it will harvest the free energy from the sun.
You could say that if solar is the internet, then coal is the telegraph.
Secretary Vilsac emphasised the importance of ‘electric cooperatives’ in the rural smart grid programme. About half the money is being paid not to commercial energy utilities but to electric cooperatives, a fine American institution reaching back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of 1933-1936.
A report from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives explains:
As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, and in the face of significant opposition, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created in 1935, and Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act a year later. In 1937, the REA drafted the Electric Cooperative Corporation Act, a model state law for formation and operation of rural electric cooperatives. The REA administered low-interest and long-term loan programs for rural electrification, and also provided technical, managerial, and educational assistance. By 1939, the REA had helped to establish 417 rural electric cooperatives, which served 288,000 households.
I am a Director of Australia’s first energy cooperative, Hepburn Wind so I’m inspired by this history.
This is a great story for the 2012 election, that Obama is modernising Roosevelt’s electric cooperatives, with renewable energy. Hopefully the GOP will see the virtue of the policy and promise to match it.
ARENA and the CEFC
The most important parts of Australia’s climate and energy policy are the $10 billion fund for clean energy investment, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the new body for coordinating R&D into renewables, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
I believe that both ARENA and the CEFC should invest in cooperative energy ventures in Australia. There are dozens of communities wanting to build their own renewable energy generator. They can mobilise retail investor funds and a vast reserve of voluntary effort and good will, which makes them an excellent investment.
Australia has a lot to learn from President Barack Obama’s administration on many issues. The President is working with the clean energy revolution, not against it, like so many on both sides of politics in Australia.
For example, Australia’s Energy Minister Martin Ferguson was allocated a billion dollars to spend on smart grid technology. He spent $1.6 million, on a study.