Ideas like battery of the nation and associated projects such as the second bass link cable (project Marinus), pumped hydro, hydrogen, wind, wave, solar are all the rage and while they are mostly ideas at the moment some will come to fruition and Northern Tasmania needs to be ready.
Just as the significant investment in Hydro Mark 1 reshaped Tasmanian industry, culture and landscape the next wave of investment in energy may well do the same. It was the North that, at least initially, benefitted most from that Mark 1 construction and population influx.
To date there has been little discussion about how the next cumulative wave of energy investment might benefit the North.
At the moment the discussions about energy are focused on projects and economics but they should also be about the futures that could be shaped for people and places. As the recent TCCI/TasCOSS report by Chris Richardson pointed out, regional Tasmania faces many challenges so we need to be focusing on constructing advantage for our regions.
The enduring legacies of Hydro Mark 1 are as much to do with the vibrancy and diversity of our culture as they are to do with energy. It's the cultural energy that Hydro mark 1 has generated that helped construct a very different Tasmania. Hydro Mark 1 was as much an immigration strategy as an energy strategy. And it was a public private partnership - a compact with the people of Tasmania about a more industrialised future - albeit one that was subsequently contested.
The next investment wave will be very different to Hydro Mark 1. Most major projects now days have high levels of offshore manufacturing, offshore management, fly-in fly-out workforces and offshore technology based operations. So apart from a sugar hit at construction the long term local benefits are much less obvious.
Unlike many traditional extractive industries, energy extraction does not require significant local employment once the infrastructure is in place. This is an existential risk to regions unless we rethink the value proposition for local communities.
What we do now is that unless there are clear work and lifestyle benefits regional populations will flow to Hobart and the mainland as happened with the Hydro Mark 1 settlements of Poatina and Gowrie Park. So we need to put ours skates on now to be thinking through the strategies to attract and retain businesses and populations to the North as core to of our Energy Mark 2 future.
Both as Tasmanians and as Northern Tasmanians we need to be exploring a broader set of opportunities to capture long term place based social and economic dividends from renewable energy investments.
Start with the principle of the circular economy and maximising benefits at every stage for regional Tasmania. Much of the value to date of our current infrastructure projects delivered by large contractors flows interstate and beyond at an alarming rate but we seem unable or unwilling to seriously tackle this. For the past 30 years the usual arguments are that we don't have local capability and national competition policy limits local subsidisation. Is this really the best we can do? How about serious investment in building local capability and partnering?
We should be developing a plan which incentivises businesses and populations settling in regional Tasmania. How about Battery of the Nation being based in Launceston? That would solve a few pressing issues for our region rather than putting more pressure on Hobart housing and transport systems. Compared to the Hydro mark 1 days we have much more knowledge around the types of policy settings needed to build and retain regional populations.
Build up Northern Tasmanian research and innovation capabilities. This would a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the go-to global place to research and training all things circular economy and renewable energy. Buzzing innovation 'precincts' attract the best and brightest young people globally. It might actually help stem the exodus of young people from Tasmania. It's the innovation and lifestyle rather than construction that will attract and retain people. NTDC, TasTAFE and the University of Tasmania could take the lead on this.
Focus on how to build up regional skills and capabilities for our most disadvantaged populations and places - many are here in the North. Again, the TCCI/TasCOSS report how there are thousands of Tasmanians who could be working so the more we can understand the jobs and skills for the future the more we can incentivise the right training for the right jobs and seriously bridge our productivity gap.
We urgently need to move away from the view that the sum of individual largely construction projects will secure Tasmania's and especially regional Tasmania's future. The TCCI/TasCOSS Chris Richardson report a few weeks back week told us again that this is not the case and that in particular the current economic rising tide is not lifting all ships evenly - especially not social wellbeing or regional Tasmania - and the tide could turn anytime, and probably will at Bell Bay.
It's the cumulative social license with the long term multiplier benefits that will get these energy projects over the line not simply the economics and Northern Tasmania needs to be working on this now with industry, governments and local communities.
- David Adams is a Professor at the University of Tasmania