A very wise colleague often stated that the key ingredients for successful regional economies are reliable water, energy, and connectivity.
The Goulburn Valley has enjoyed all three and it’s reflected in the scale, variety and success of our local business, communities and economy. Looking forward there are challenges including water security, freight network investment and blackspots. These are not new, each has been on the table for at least a decade, and each is approaching a critical point within the term of the next Federal Government.
The Murray Darling Plan is scheduled to conclude in 2024, the Shepparton Bypass has a business case ready to go, and digital connectivity is essential to welcoming the metro-exodus and ensuring regional businesses, communities and students can match their metro counterparts. We expect our next member for Nicholls to be across these issues and to hit the ground running from day one.
So, what about energy – reliable, secure, and affordable energy?
We remain the second largest dairy production region in Australia, we are home to almost a quarter of Australia’s milk processing capacity, and we produce almost half of Victoria’s fruit. We are also one of the largest freight and logistics hubs in regional Australia and home to more than 25% of Victoria’s registered heavy vehicles.
The Goulburn Valley has thousands of farms, orchards, packhouses, processors, manufacturers, as well as storage and transport providers, and they are reliant on thousands of local businesses, trades, and employees. From our most well-known – SPC and Furphy – to our small and emerging, reliable energy underpins our industries, businesses, and jobs, as well as the hospitals, schools and facilities that serve our communities.
We know our local industries need energy. What we are learning is that our region’s scale and combination of industry and geography could see us leading the way in generating renewable local energy to supply local industry using local waste – namely biogas and green hydrogen.
Already there are major cities, smaller regional centres, industrial zones, and businesses here and overseas using waste to generate energy, and the race is on to improve this technology.
The Goulburn Valley’s advantage is simple. In a small geographic area, we have a large volume of food production, processing and manufacturing that needs year-round supplies of energy and – importantly – contributes to year-round supplies of local waste and wastewater. To give this some perspective, our local wastewater treatment plant has capacity to service a million residents – for a town of about 70,000. The extra capacity is essential to meet the needs of our local industry.
With a handful of postcodes, we also have a significant freight and transport industry with year-round demand for fuel and located at one of the most important intersections on Australia’s national freight network.
Our geography is important because building the infrastructure to distribute energy from where it is generated to where it is needed is expensive. Our compact footprint creates opportunities for direct supply between users and local renewable energy suppliers, with scope to build in big batteries and local network storage to improve reliability.
While our initial investigations indicate all the ingredients are there, we cannot do it alone, we need funding, expertise, and support to complete more detailed investigations. The investigations will confirm if and how we can make the technology work for our region and viability of spin-off opportunities such as protected cropping, and fertiliser and urea production.
But this too creates important opportunities – to define future trades, careers, and PhDs, to connect our students to exciting new placements and career paths, to support our education providers to grow their course offerings in partnership with industry, and to establish our region as the place to learn, innovate and design practical solutions to local and global challenges.
Knowing we have the potential to transform the Goulburn Valley into a world-leading, modern processing, manufacturing, and transport powerhouse with secure access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy that’s generated locally and used locally is pretty heady stuff. It will not happen overnight but using our existing resources (waste) to strengthen our existing industries and create new jobs, careers and business opportunities along the way strikes me as well worth the effort.