SECURING a cost-effective gas supply for communities in the Murray Valley has long been the number one infrastructure priority for municipalities across northern Victoria.
Many communities have been hampered in development because they were deemed too small for extension of the natural gas pipeline grid to be viable, yet have been unable to attract industrial development because of the absence of an inexpensive energy source.
The Victorian Government announcement this week to call tenders for the option of constructing community-specific bulk tanks linked to individual "virtual pipelines" follows nearly two decades of lobbying by councils across the region..
The Murray River Group of Councils - comprising the Gannawarra, Loddon, Campaspe and Moira shires and the Mildura and Swan Hill rural cities - believe a natural gas supply for Murray River communities is essential to stimulate economic activity in northern
Group chairman and Loddon mayor, Cr Geoff Curnow said member councils had been pushing for natural gas for 15 years.
"If we are to grow our towns and our region's prosperity, adequate natural gas is imperative," he said.
"This is a project with wide regional support and one strongly supported by the State of Victoria.
"Communities without access to natural gas lack a cost-competitive energy source. They face higher costs for domestic heating and are at a significant disadvantage in attracting industry - especially in value-adding and food processing enterprises," he said.
"The Victorian Government's feasibility study concluded that a transmission pipeline was not cost-effective and the best opportunity lay in localised reticulation systems, with gas freighted to individual towns' reticulations.
"The government has now moved on to develop a tender proposal seeking to engage energy companies to build and operate gas infrastructure to these communities."
Natural gas will prove to be a cheaper energy option for local residents, businesses and industries, Gannawarra mayor, Cr Neville Goulding said.
He said that it will provide an added inducement to businesses considering establishing or relocating to our communities.
The Coalition has adopted the strategy of having bulk storage facilities in smaller urban centres connected to a dedicated reticulated network supplying residences, businesses and industries.
Cr Goulding described the bulk storage proposal as a "sensible solution" that would provide gas at one-third of the cost of bottled liquid petroleum gas.
"Certain industries require low-cost gas to remain viable," he said.
Cr Goulding said that the eventual extension of natural gas to shire urban centres provided hope for Leitchville's disused dairy factory and provided an opportunity for other food processors to operate in this region.
Victoria's Deputy Premier, Peter Ryan said that the Victorian Government was committed to providing piped natural gas to as many towns as possible across the length of the Murray Valley.
"We will finally break the paradigm," Mr Ryan said while announcing an $85 million tender process, which includes $30 million for communities in Murray Valley municipalities.
Mr Ryan said that the government had been determined to extend natural gas to rural communities.
"However, many, unfortunately, communities were not big enough; yet on the other hand they have not attracted industries because they haven't had natural gas," he said.
The joint Victorian Government and Federal Government funding is guaranteed no matter which party wins the Federal election tomorrow.
Mr Ryan said that funding had been successfully negotiated with former Federal Minister for Regional Development, Simon Crean and Coalition Shadow Minister for Finance, Andrew Robb confirmed this week that the Coalition would honour the commitment.
The provision of natural gas for Murray Valley towns is one element of a program that also involves increasing the capacity of the supply to Mildura and extension to 14 other towns.
"Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy and is one-third of the cost of bottled gas, so there's an enormous benefit," Mr Ryan said.
"Whether it's to the stove or supplying a business, irrespective of the source (tank or pipeline), gas will flow."