Skirting past a multitude of groups, all conversing animatedly, I briskly made my way into The Wedge Performing Arts Centre. It was August 2022, the Sale sky was grey, but the mood in the Wedge was considerably brighter.
I thought, ‘Hell yeah, how good are live events!’ even as I completed the various Covid safety statements.
I slid through the open door into the theatre early and, to my surprise, it was already packed and filled with a burbling excitement. The inaugural Gippsland New Energy Conference (GNEC) was about to get underway.
Full disclosure, I received a last-minute ticket to attend the event. Even so, I wasn’t convinced I’d actually make it. I struggle with ‘talk-fests’. They can sap my spirit. All front, but no realistic path to action.
So, the plan was that we’d head to Sale, take a gander, then enjoy a long weekend together as a family in the region. But then, I learnt that a couple of East Gippsland’s amazing artistic folk would be in attendance. As would other Gippslandia friends, mentors and collaborators. Slowly, the GNEC gained my interest.
“I felt a genuine buzz fill the room.”
As the initial session kicked off with Lily D’Ambrosio, who is the Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources, Minister for Climate Action and Minister for the State Electricity Commission, making the pivotal announcement that over $40 billion of renewable energy projects are planned across Gippsland, I felt a genuine buzz fills the room.
Maybe it was the copious early morning caffeine? Maybe it was because, for many, this was the first time we’d been able to see each other in-person for two years? Maybe it was because of the heady figure… $40 billion? Maybe it was because we were hearing the same optimistic message from local, state and federal government members?
It may have been some potent cocktail of all of the above, but the energy was palpable, to me at least (and the school kids that were sitting behind me. They were jazzed about something).
The second session in The Wedge was noticeably quieter but more impactful for me. As a selection of key industry figures presented their future projects or discussed how much the region would benefit from new supply lines and employment opportunities, I shared a few words with the gent next to me.
While he was ‘sitting’ there, he had a multitude of operations underway: tapping away at his little Dell, chatting on his phone and occasionally listening intently. I began to learn that he had links with international investment. He told me details of future battery projects up and down the Australian east coast. He shared trends and insights with me. All interesting, all largely forgotten now. But what stayed with me was the pieces I caught when eavesdropping on his other conversations. He was relaying the air of positivity and critical announcements from the conference to others. Taking Gippsland to the world.
Doesn’t that feel good?
With the recent announcement that GNEC will be coming back on August 1 and September 2 2023, I spoke with conference manager Darren McCubbin, who has over 20 years of experience in renewable energy, local government and the arts.
Previously a councillor and mayor of the Wellington Shire Council, Darren is currently the CEO of the Gippsland Climate Change Network – a leading group driving the GNEC, as well as a new key website that aims to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for renewable energy in Gippsland.
Darren says that the past few years have been a whirlwind, but that he’s enjoying growing into the new role, while admitting that the hard work for both him and the region is still to come.
Darren’s adamant that, “We’re fortunate to be in Gippsland,” as the region is ripe to take advantage of the potential ‘gold rush’ associated with the upcoming renewable energy projects.
Change is already well underway, as Darren excitedly tells me about seeing a new hydrogen-powered vehicle down at local company headquarters in the Gippsland Circular Economy Precinct.
On a drizzly Thursday morning in Sale, Gippsland’s future shone brightly as the GNEC celebrated a bold new direction for the region.
Surely, we should be aiming for more – both bold ideas and exceptional events.
To get more information on the 2023 Gippsland New Energy Conference or to buy tickets and get along yourself, head to gnec.com.au.