Australia is on the precipice of a renewable energy boom. If only we had a government with an energy plan that supported lower prices, lower emissions and good jobs. According to the Clean Energy Council, there are 29 large-scale renewables projects across regional NSW under construction and employing nearly 4,000 people.
But in Canberra, we have been trapped in a debate about energy policy that pits environmentalists against coal-mining communities. This debate doesn't reflect the reality that country communities can see right in front of them. And it is costing regional Australia jobs every day.
The Coalition government has announced 19 energy policies in seven years, and none of them have lasted more than a few weeks. They don't have a plan to bring prices down, or reduce emissions. They have division and chaos, led by a small set of conservative politicians who are ideologically obsessed with undermining renewable energy.
Our chaotic and highly politicised approach to climate change is having an effect. In January, Bloomberg New Finance reported that investment in Australia's renewable energy industry dropped by 60% in the last year: the largest fall in wind and solar investment in the world.
Major infrastructure firms have begun pulling out of renewable energy altogether. This failure has hit regional communities hardest. Energy prices have climbed under the Coalition, hurting country families and businesses. But most of all it is regional and rural communities who are missing out on the full benefits of a global renewables boom.
In NSW alone there are over 100 renewable energy projects looking for investment. Many of them are in New England: including the Walcha Energy project which would be the biggest single renewable energy generator on Australia's main grid and generate twice as much electricity as the Liddell Power Station.
All of these projects would generate good, skilled jobs in towns across NSW. They would create apprenticeship opportunities for country kids, and would deliver falling energy prices.
The advent of cheap, renewable energy is a chance to reindustrialise country Australia. We are already seeing the beginnings of that process in Whyalla, where investments in renewables are future-proofing the local steel industry. Cheap renewable energy has the potential to create thousands of good manufacturing jobs in both new and existing industries, like steel, aluminium and lithium batteries.
It's time that the National Party stopped squabbling amongst themselves and began a rational, serious shift to an energy policy that puts country communities at the front of the queue for good jobs and lower electricity prices.
Tim Ayres is the Labor Senator for NSW