Kunawarritji, in the middle of Western Australia's Pilbara region, is a 15-hour drive from the nearest town and home to one of the most remote Aboriginal medical services in the state.
“It’s basically at the centre of the West Australian desert,” Robby Chibawe told BuzzFeed News.
Chibawe is the CEO of Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service (PAMS), a community controlled health organisation based in Newman that runs health clinics in Kunawarritji and three other Pilbara communities.
He is calling on the government to extend solar power funding to these communities, saying a move away from diesel generators is both logical and sorely needed.
"Because we’re so remote, and it’s very very hot out there, you need a lot of electricity to keep cool, like air con," Chibawe said.
"At the moment we use diesel, which is not cheap ... having solar would be a huge, huge help for a lot of the communities out in the desert."
On Thursday the Western Australian government announced $11.6 million in funding for solar farms and battery storage in the Kimberley region in the state's north.
The program will be delivered by Horizon Power and install solar farms across six remote communities: Warmun and Kalumburu in 2020, and Ardyaloon, Beagle Bay, Djarindjin/Lombadina and Bidyadanga in 2021.
The government says the scheme will reduce carbon emissions by more than 2,000 tonnes per year as well as cutting power costs.
WA Aboriginal affairs minister Ben Wyatt said: "The solar incentives scheme allows Aboriginal communities to reduce their power bills for community buildings such as roadhouses, offices and men's sheds, while also improving the energy reliability during periods when it can be hard to access diesel fuel."
PAMS is part of the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA), an organisation made up of the state's community-controlled health organisations.
Several AHCWA members would like to see solar power funding extended to their communities, including Spinifex Health Services in the Goldfields region.
Chibawe said all they need is help with the initial investment to set it up, and in the long run it will be "far, far cheaper".
"We still need a bit of diesel capacity in case of storms and when there’s no sun, which is very rare out there. We’re talking about very few days in a year."
He called on the government to extend solar incentives to the "hot and unforgiving" centre of the state.
"It’s better that they start with the centre, with us and Spinifex, and then go towards the ocean," he said.
There would be a cost to cleaning the panels, Chibawe said, but it would be outweighed by the savings.
A spokesperson for Energy minister Bill Johnston told BuzzFeed News the Kimberley locations were selected as they were all remote communities that currently receive electricity through Horizon Power.
The government has no immediate plans to roll out the incentive scheme in the Pilbara, but has "constant discussions with Horizon Power about providing safe, lower cost power to Aboriginal communities", the spokesperson said.
Horizon Power also runs an incentive scheme in which it pays 30% of set-up costs for rooftop solar panels in communities that are Horizon customers.
As well as cost, climate change is a major concern for Chibawe. He said an increase in major weather events is particularly worrying for remote communities because they can be left stranded with no access or communications following a storm.
The four clinics operated by PAMS include Jigalong, a three-hour drive from Newman on a dirt road; Parnngurr, a six-hour drive east into the desert; Punmu, eight hours from Port Hedland; and Kunawarritji.
New clinics recently opened at Punmu and Parnngurr have solar panels on top, providing a small amount of power to complement the diesel.
Solar has been rolled out to communities across the Northern Territory as part of a federally funded program run through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
Federal environment minister and member for Durack Melissa Price did not respond to a request for comment.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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