The transformation of the Upper Spencer Gulf as a renewable energy powerhouse has taken centre stage, with a major conference in Adelaide dedicated to the region and the wide range of 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 South Australian Government.
Whyalla Mayor Clare McLaughlin said the Upper Spencer Gulf has much to offer and is 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", explained Mayor McLaughlin.
"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 technologies - pumped hydro, solar thermal, solar photo-voltaic, 'big' batteries, wind and hydrogen."
Port Augusta Mayor Brett Benbow added that the wide range of renewable energy technologies proposed across the Upper Spencer Gulf makes the region an attractive location for further investment and opens up 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 like our Uni Hub", said Mayor Benbow.
Mr Benbow said whilst there are positives, there also needs to be much stronger 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."
"At the moment local Councils often have a limited role as many renewable energy development approvals are taken out of our hands and dealt with directly by the State Government."
Port Augusta and the other Spencer Gulf Cities have also joined the call from many neighbouring Councils in the Mid North who want the South Australian Government to amend legislation and 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", explained Mayor Benbow. "We don't think it's fair that our local 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."
Chair of the Spencer Gulf Cities Association and Port Pirie Mayor Leon Stephens said the conference 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."
"We also need to be a bit more sensible about where some of this large visual development happens. It's really important that we have the right development in the right location. We don't want to see negative impact on local residents or existing industries like tourism."
"Make no mistake - renewable energy is our future and we are really keen to make the most of this potential in the Upper Spencer Gulf", concluded Mayor Stephens. "But in doing so, we want government and developers to work with us more closely and make sure we have the right legislation, the right policy framework and the right attitude moving forward, so that we all win."