House debates

Monday, 24 August 2020

Private Members' Business

Renewable Energy

11:01 am

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) in the 19th century it was regional Australia that led the transition from gas to electricity and that in the 21st century it is again regional Australia that is leading Australia's transition to renewable energy; and

(b) according to the Australian Energy Market Operator's Integrated System Plan, around 15 gigawatts of coal-fired power will retire over the next 20 years;

(2) recalls the analysis from the leaked report of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission Manufacturing Taskforce indicated that renewables plus storage are the lowest cost form of new electricity generation, and therefore a lowest-cost energy transition will be based on significant investment in renewables;

(3) welcomes the recent comments from the International Energy Agency that 'governments have the opportunity to accelerate renewables deployment by making investment in renewables a key part of stimulus packages designed to reinvigorate their economies. This offers the prospect of harnessing the structural benefits that increasingly affordable renewables can bring, including opportunities for creating jobs and economic development, while reducing emissions and fostering innovation';

(4) notes analysis by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation that projects that up to $1,000 billion will be spent on Australia's electricity system until 2050 and that local communities should benefit from this investment boom;

(5) acknowledges that 'community energy', which is where a renewable energy project is developed by, owned by or delivers benefit to local communities, offers a compelling model for capturing the immense benefits of renewable energy, including jobs and investment, for local communities in regional Australia;

(6) further welcomes the findings of Sustainability Victoria into the Victorian Community Power Hub pilot program which found that Government investment into community energy of $1.16 million created 15 projects delivering economic benefits worth $25.6 million; and

(7) calls on the Government to support the development of community-owned renewable energy projects across regional Australia through:

(a) direct financial support for regional communities in the form of grants and concessional loans;

(b) technical support for local communities to develop renewable energy projects based on the Community Power Hub model successfully deployed in Victoria; and

(c) a dedicated national community energy agency to enable capacity-building across the regional community energy network and to administer financial and technical support over the medium-term.

Australia's future is renewable, and renewables will be built almost entirely in regional Australia. These are not political statements; they're the sober findings of the engineers at the Australian Energy Market Operator who have mapped out a technical blueprint, the Integrated Systems Plan, for Australia's electricity needs over the next 20 years. Their plan shows that in that time frame over 60 per cent of our coal fleet will reach the end of its life—it will retire, it will break down, it will be gone. And, because renewables, even when you add the cost of storage, are cheaper than fossil fuels, these coal stations will be replaced by solar and wind. In fact, by 2040 they estimate that over 80 per cent of our electricity capacity will be renewable. They've mapped out where those new renewable power stations will get built—the locations in the grid with the best resources and the best grid connections—and these new renewable energy zones stretch right across regional Australia. We're building a network of interconnected renewable power stations stretching in a sunbelt from Esperance in the west to Carpentaria in the north and everywhere in between. This means big investment.

In recent months, we've seen a $3 billion proposal for a wind farm and battery near Burra in South Australia, a $20 billion farm in the Northern Territory that would export energy to Singapore and $38 billion worth of private investment in a slew of projects around Dubbo. This investment in regional Australia is already starting to happen and, as we look for ways we can rebuild our regional economy from the crisis that we're now in, harnessing this 21st century gold rush for the benefit of everyday people is one of our greatest opportunities. It's right here, right now, and it is before us if we grasp it.

We need to make sure that everyday people actually benefit from the boom because those power stations will be selling electricity to the country and to the world. Who owns them and where that money goes matters, and Australia's experience with renewable energy so far underscores that new development does not inevitably benefit the local community. In the past, some developers frankly ignored some communities. As we look ahead to the next phase, we can't repeat those mistakes. We have to involve community.

The renewable boom is exciting but it should happen with locals not to locals. We should aspire not just to a renewable energy future but to a community energy future. Community energy is where everyday people develop, own or benefit from renewable energy. Right now, all across Australia, there are over 100 community groups doing just that. In Denmark, in Western Australia, the local community raised money to build their own wind farm, which not only provides local cheap power to the town but provides returns to the local investors, keeping money in the region instead of sending it off to some distant power company. In New England, in New South Wales, the Sapphire Wind Farm, which powers 115,000 homes, was built with $7.5 million of co-investment raised from the local people, who are now receiving dividends alongside the commercial developer. And in my patch, in Indi, Yea and Euroa are developing mini grids to enable low-cost power sharing in their towns. Beechworth and Yackandandah are developing community energies, community batteries. Wodonga is putting solar on the homes of low-income housing and the locals in Benalla will soon receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in community investment from a series of new solar farms. These examples, which are already happening, provide a model for how the benefits of renewables can best be captured for everyday Australians.

But it's at this critical moment, for our country, that we need a plan to ensure every regional community can partake in this boom. Over recent months I've been working with communities right across Australia on a plan to do just that, to ensure that renewable energy not only creates local jobs but sets us up for a generation of shared prosperity. On 23 September I will launch that plan. I'd like to invite all Australians who want to see renewable energy drive a new era of prosperity for regional Australia to join me. This multidecade wave of investment is just starting to break. Let's find a way to surf it. I commend this motion to the House.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Indi. Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:04 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my honour to rise, in this place, for the first time of this sitting period after what has been a pretty tough few months for Australia. It's been tough for all Australians, and the government's record for keeping Australians safe is to be commended. Australia has been lucky, with a good dose of hard work along the way, but the next 30 years in Australia are going to look vastly different from the 30 years that have preceded it.

Going forward, it won't be business as usual. This horrendous virus has opened up a world of pain. For instance, our tourism industry and international education industry will be severely hampered—at least, for the short and medium term. But COVID has also opened up a world of opportunity. We have the chance to do things better, to work to our strengths. With a well-managed health and economic response, we are positioned to grasp those opportunities with both hands and, hopefully, swifter than the rest of the world. We have to look to ourselves to realise the potential of investing, investing in our future. At the core of that is investing in our power infrastructure and renewable energy, right here in our own backyard.

To come out of the other side of this virus we need to have affordable and reliable energy for all Australians, while driving hard to reduce our emissions and continue to deliver on our international obligations. I would like to see us become a leader in the opportunities that a renewable-led recovery can provide. Our government's plan is to lead through technology—not taxes. That means a lot to me as a scientist. We've commenced that plan through the technology investment road map, which seeks to develop Australia's plan to make sure we are reducing our emissions but also to put us on the front foot of renewable technology and our ability to contribute to the world's growing appetite for cleaner, greener energy. As the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, has said, we have the opportunity to bottle and ship our sunshine to places like Japan.

We have to get to a renewable future. Australians know that. We can be proud that, with more solar panels on roofs per capita than almost any other country around the world, Australian science and innovation is being used in almost half of the world's solar panels. We have a proven track record in using our resourcefulness, in using our resilience and in using our technology to help solve some of the world's most important problems.

But for our economy to prosper we have to ensure that our energy is also reliable. We need something to balance the system and ensure baseload power supply when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. We know we are currently transitioning to a renewable energy future and we need to keep affordable and reliable energy at the centre of that. The coalition government's investments in large-scale storage will help us to move to a standalone carbon-neutral future. Large-scale storage, like Snowy 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation, will help to provide the reliable power needed to keep the lights on during peak demand. Gas, and our emerging capability in hydrogen, will also help us transition to renewables and help provide stability in the network while the new technologies come online. Hydrogen in particular has the potential to serve us not only as a viable energy source for Australia but also as a large-scale export industry which will benefit Australia's economy and help the rest of the world—in particular, developing nations—moved to a carbon-neutral future while serving their large populations.

Developing a large-scale hydrogen industry will benefit regional Australians almost more than any. The size and scale of production naturally lends itself to any producer basing themselves in regional Australia. An Australian hydrogen industry could create as many as 8,000 jobs, with even more secondary jobs. On current growth figures, a well-run supported hydrogen industry could generate more than $11 billion a year. The Morrison government has backed this energy source with over half a billion dollars already invested, including $300 million for the CEFC Advancing Hydrogen Fund.

Finally, as a scientist, I believe we need to be open-minded about new technologies, which are coming online all the time. As the world moves to a carbon-neutral future, most countries with ambitious energy targets have nuclear somewhere in the mix. We need to think about small modular reactors and new nuclear technologies if we are to compete in getting to a carbon-neutral future as fast as possible. Energy technology is moving rapidly and we wouldn't want to miss any opportunity to lead the revolution in the world's bid for a carbon-neutral future.

11:11 am

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Indi for her motion, and I'm pleased to second it. The development of community energy in regional Australia will create local jobs in those communities. I acknowledge the government's support for community energy in Australia with the Energy Efficient Communities Program, which is distributing funds of $40 million to projects around Australia. I also acknowledge the New South Wales government and Minister Kean for the $15 million Regional Community Energy Fund that is supporting community energy projects from Gulgong to Goulburn and right to Byron Bay.

Community energy can make an enormous contribution to Australia, from the bush to coastal cities, and will accelerate job creation and shared values. Australia and the world are in an energy transition and, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator, the planner, forecaster and manager of the grid, up to 15 gigawatts of coal will retire over the next two decades. The market has made it clear that the cheapest replacement is renewables and storage; it is not gas. This could be wind or solar, with pumped hydro, solar arrays on roofs, virtual power plants and, of course, green hydrogen. Community energy projects are a way for communities to assist in this transition but also to take the power of renewable technologies into their own hands whilst creating local jobs and boosting local economies.

According to the Community Power Agency, community energy projects are social and community enterprises driven by local people. So community energy groups tend to have a social and environmental driver as well as an economic one. They encompass a range of technologies and activities from a breadth of scales determined by the community needs, the availability of local natural resources, technologies and funding and community support. An example of this is a group of community members collectively funding and installing a large array of solar panels on their local town hall to power local businesses in the surrounding area. There are multiple benefits to this approach. The projects create local jobs, they reduce power prices, the power matches local needs and they foster a sense of community cohesion and shared values.

We need these benefits in these tough times more than ever—especially jobs. Fortunately, for every $1.5 million invested in renewables almost eight jobs are created, compared to only 2.6 jobs in old energy production like coal or gas. There is no doubt that our job future is in renewables.

Luckily, we don't have to look too far for examples. We have these kinds of projects in many regional communities and in Warringah. ClearSky Solar Investments are an award-winning not-for-profit from a New South Wales government grant. They established an unlisted structure allowing private investors to finance solar installations across schools and businesses. ClearSky partnered with another not-for-profit, Pingala, and did one community finance installation for the 4 Pines brewery. They invited 4 Pines employees, friends and Northern Beaches locals to participate and make up an inclusive investor portfolio. They had so much interest that they had to draw names. The way it works is that 4 Pines pays for electricity consumed, with the proceeds being returned to shareholders by a power purchase agreement of smart commercial solar for a return of up to eight per cent on their investment.

In Warringah, we're also supporting communities like those in Indi. Solar Choice, a renewable energy developer based in Warringah, secured planning approval for one megawatt in the Majura Valley community solar farm in the ACT. This is the largest community-owned solar farm in Australia. It will have over 5,000 solar modules, will power approximately 250 homes and will abate 1,600 tonnes of Co2 every year. The benefits are obvious so how do we get more of these going?

Alongside the member for Indi, I call on the government to direct financial support to these communities in the form of grants and concessional loans, to support local communities to develop renewable energy projects based on the existing model likes the community power hub model in Victoria—the Majura Valley solar farm, the 4 Pines Brewery community funded solar—and take it one step further by establishing a national community energy agency to enable capacity building in regional communities. We need a renewable-led recovery.

11:17 am

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak not only on the motion of the member for Indi to express my desire to see further investment in recent technologies and the Australia's energy grid in my electorate of Mallee but also on the government's outstanding track record in fostering such investments. Mallee has the potential to lead the nation in renewable energy production, with wind projects in the south of the electorate and solar projects in the north.

The Lodden Mallee Renewable Energy Roadmap encompasses the north of the electorate and further afield into Greater Bendigo and estimates renewables could deliver up $1 billion in supply chain benefits to the region and create over 3,200 jobs. Significant investments have been made into solar generation in Mallee by the federal government through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, including the 50 megawatt Gannawarra Solar Farm at Kerang, the 110 megawatt Bannerton Solar Farm, the 110 megawatt Wemen Solar Farm as well as Victoria's largest solar farm, the 200 megawatt Kiamal Solar Farm near Mildura. Taken together, these projects alone have the capacity to power over 220,000 homes.

These projects are located in what's known as the Murray River Renewable Energy Zone. This area, which has been mapped by the Australian Energy Market Operator encompasses more than 640 megawatts of solar generation developments and future commitments. While a significant amount of energy is generated in Mallee, there is concern about voltage stability and thermal limits, which currently restrict the output of these generators. This is why we desperately need to prioritise projects that will increase Victoria's grid capacity, including the Western Victorian Transmission Network Project, which will install new power lines from Melbourne through Ballarat to Ararat as well as VNI West—a proposed new interconnector between Victoria and New South Wales.

Kerang in my electorate has been identified as the optimal location for this interconnector, which will significantly increase our region's capacity to generate renewable electricity. Tom O'Reilly, the CEO of Gannawarra Shire Council, told me that, if Kerang is chosen for this interconnector, it will be a game changer for the region. He said that there are millions of dollars of private sector investment knocking at his door and that a commitment to this project would open the flood gates for solar generation in northern Mallee. Another exciting project happening in Mallee is the Donald and Tarnagulla microgrid feasibility study. This $1.4 million project is funded through the Commonwealth Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund and will assess the microgrid's potential to deliver the energy reliability, affordability and security which these communities need.

A multifaceted approach is needed to fully capitalise on the potential of renewables. I'm excited by alternative energy sources and storage options like bioenergy and hydrogen technologies. In Mallee we are lucky to be home to a world-first bioenergy project at Select Harvests in Robinvale, which utilises almond hulls and shells as a source of energy. This project generates enough energy to power the Carina West almond processing facility and the irrigation pumps at the Carina orchard. It has also led to the creation of eight new career opportunities for permanent staff at Select Harvests.

There is also enormous potential for hydrogen to be used as a clean fuel source and as a mechanism to store energy, which will become increasingly important as renewables become a large portion of Australia's energy mix. Mallee also stands to gain from innovations in hydrogen storage technologies. Excess energy that is generated from other sources, including solar, that would otherwise go to waste can be stored in hydrogen molecules. This hydrogen can then be utilised when the sun isn't shining, thereby creating and increasing the efficiency of our renewable energy assets—a living battery, if you like.

I support Australia's National Hydrogen Strategy adopted by COAG, and the federal government's $300 million Advancing Hydrogen Fund. I was excited when Linda Beilharz, the CEO of the Loddon Mallee arm of Regional Development Australia, spoke to me about the Mallee hydrogen road map, and I'm eager to review this and explore ways in which Mallee can benefit from innovative hydrogen projects.

I support ongoing investment into renewable energy technologies in my electorate, and in Australia's energy grid infrastructure, and I will continue to support the development of related projects in my electorate of Mallee.

11:21 am

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the member for Indi's motion on renewable energy. It's a unicorn of a motion. It's all too rare in this parliament, certainly in the four years I've been here, that you ever get a debate about energy, climate change, renewables that deals in facts and figures as opposed to ideology, blind prejudice and fantasy stories that we hear from the government day in, day out.

The motion talks, quite rightly, about regional Australia leading Australia's transition to renewable energy and about the fact that the market operator advises that 15 gigawatts of coal-fired power is going to be retired in the next 20 years. It's not a mad lefty fantasy. The market operator tells us this. Even the Prime Minister's fossil fuel mates that he hand-picked for his dodgy commission to tell us how to get out of the recession that he's presiding over have admitted that renewables plus storage are the lowest-cost forms of energy and electricity generation. The International Energy Agency says to governments around the world: 'Use the trillions of dollars of stimulus to invest in renewable energy. That would be a good idea, and communities should benefit.' But the context that this debate occurs in is key. It's not just about community renewables—and I endorse the contributions made—it is about the government's abject failure over seven years and 19 failed energy policies to provide any certainty for this country about where people can invest, where we're investing in new supply and how we're going to deal with climate change. It's a complete failure.

The Prime Minister's latest effort, in an utterly corrupt farce, is the COVID economic recovery commission process. In March the Prime Minister appointed his mates from the fossil fuel industry: Nev Power, who's on the board of the gas company Strike Energy, and Andrew Liveris, unbelievably, who's on the board of Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil and gas giant Aramco. They won't release their conflict of interest declarations—they're secret, mind. And in this secretive, multimillion dollar exercise, which has no transparency, no accountability at all—just how this Prime Minister likes it—guess what they recommend? The answer is: when his fossil fuel mates get together they say, 'Give us billions of dollars!' Surprise, surprise! That's it; that's the answer. Even worse, they want a pipeline from the east coast to the west coast. That failed, silly idea that has been rejected time after time because it doesn't pass any robust cost-benefit test and never will. This is rent-seeking nonsense worthy of Vladimir Putin's Russia, not Australia.

Now if you read the detail—this came out in a Senate inquiry—there are little reports that are buried in there that say, 'By the way, Prime Minister, you should underwrite the gas supply at fixed prices.' That sounds okay, until you stop and think about what it means. We'll decode it. What it means is: 'Prime Minister, you should promise to pay us and our companies billions of dollars at a guaranteed price for years, even if global prices drop massively.' That's what it means. And when questioned, Nev Power and the fossil fuel mates that the Prime Minister has got in a secret room advising him backed off and said, 'It's not a final proposal; it might not quite be what we mean.' It's what they wrote and it is what they mean. Even in future years, if tankers sail the ocean full of fossil fuels looking for someone to buy them at a cheap price, don't worry, Scott Morrison's legacy will be that the Australian taxpayers will keep paying inflated prices for decades. That's what it means.

The so-called gas recovery is a slogan. The government members' instructions are just to keep saying 'gas recovery'. Gas-fired recovery: it sounds good, like turning on the stove. It's a policy you get when you have a government led by a failed marketing ad man without a plan.

Now in case you think I'm just a mad lefty, I might be a mad lefty, but I'll make three points in closing. One: of course gas and coal will remain part of Australia's energy mix for years to come. That's a fact. Labor supports those jobs. The second fact is that we also support cheaper power. The fact is that renewables are the cheapest form of new energy. For cheaper, cleaner energy, you're going to back renewables. The third point—this is really important, in case people dismiss us as mad, raving lefties—is, let the market rip. I say on this topic let the market rip, because the market has spoken. Consumers have spoken. Even BHP is selling out of thermal coal. If you believe in market economics, as we hear from the government members that they do, if you believe this, as opposed to just saying it and then doing another thing by giving billions of dollars of taxpayer money to your corporate mates in fossil fuel, if you believe this, let the market rip. Don't subsidise any form of power. The market has spoken. It will go to the cheapest, cleanest form of new energy, which is renewable energy. So I thank the member for Indi for allowing a fact based debate.

11:27 am

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start where the member left off, which is to highlight some of the somewhat hypocritical arguments that were put before the chamber. He talked specifically about how we should let the market rip and remove all government investment, all government subsidies in the renewable energy sector. In order for him to say that consistently, he would have to say he's against the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Abolish it—that's what the member was arguing. He was arguing let's get rid of ARENA, which focuses on investment in new technology innovations. He would argue that we should have got rid of the Renewable Energy Target when it used to be in place. He definitely wouldn't have supported the carbon tax, because that would have been a bad subsidy to the private sector as well. Of course these hypocritical arguments go to the heart of the disjointed, incoherent position of the Australian Labor Party on energy. He doesn't even know his own electorate. His electorate is close to mine. In the Goldstein electorate, and many of the businesses that operate just outside it, are many businesses that die cast, which means that they have to melt metals. We can have arguments about renewable energy; I'm not arguing that; I'm pro technology. But I'm also a realist. Wind turbines can't create the heat to melt metal unless they're on fire themselves. You need gas. That's why gas is a critical part of the manufacturing base of the economy.

Some of the members on the other side argue against that or shake their heads. They obviously have no real connection to what you have to do in manufacturing. You need to melt things. You need to burn things. That's why we're in this situation. I go to businesses, not in my electorate but just outside, in the member's electorate, and I know exactly what they're like. I know exactly how much it's a dishonest argument to put forward that everything can simply be replaced.

Let's be realists. Let's focus on it. One of the reasons why the government has accepted the proposition of gas as a critical part of the transition to lower emissions and energy prices, while guaranteeing reliability, is for the reason that the Chief Scientist comes out in support of it, because so much of the infrastructure that sits behind gas can be converted to hydrogen when it becomes viable. The member who moved the motion, the member for Indi, is now shaking her head at the Chief Scientist. It's just extraordinary. They are not focused on the reality of the engineering associated with energy.

As somebody who has studied energy extensively over many years, including in the climate change space, but not exclusively, it's clear to me that to have a sustainable transition plan you need to look at what viable technologies sit in the marketplace and what can be delivered, and you need to make sure that you take the country with you. That is exactly why we've taken the energy road map approach, mapping out a chart or pathway of how we want to get to a lower-emissions future and a cheaper energy future, and what we need to do to support technology into the marketplace. But the only solution that our opponents put forward is one with a singular lens, where cost doesn't matter and we're not worried about the impact on families. Let's remember who are most impacted by this issue: it's not the well-off and it's not business—although they have their own consequences, and when they do it hurts jobs, and jobs and job creation are going to be critical in the months and years to come—it's the poor, it's the pensioners and it's the people who don't have much of a margin in their household electricity bill.

They're the people who pay the cost of the agenda of Labor and an Independent, in this case. They don't understand the energy market and think that if they come to Canberra, sit here and tinker with their priorities that somehow that's going to deliver for the Australian people. That's against the approach that this government takes, where we map out a plan and invest in new technologies so that we can build a future energy-reliable supply for the country. That's so manufacturers can have the gas they need to melt metals so they can produce goods and so they can sell Australian products competitively internationally. It's so households can pay lower prices on their bills; that's whether they're on gas, because they've got all that infrastructure and they can't necessarily change or upgrade, or because they need lower electricity bills—particularly in winter when it's cold and they don't have the money to support themselves.

Every single thing we do is very mindful of what it is we need to do to cut emissions, what is it we need to do to cut prices and what is that we need to do to make sure that we have a reliable energy supply for this country. The alternative approach which has been put before us in this parliament by this member—and those in the Labor Party who support it—is to make their priorities more important than the lived, real experience of Australian households and Australian businesses. That is why their conduct is so disgraceful.

11:32 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with genuine pleasure to talk about this motion. I thank the member for raising it, because this is about empowering communities to reduce their power prices and also to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Those are both laudable and eminently achievable.

This is happening all around the world and I'm really proud of previous efforts by Labor governments to support this initiative. For example, in the last Labor government, the Rudd-Gillard government, we allocated significant amounts of funding to empower communities to grab renewable energy opportunities. We had the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we had the $3.2 billion ARENA, we had one $1.2 billion for businesses to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and, very specifically to this motion, we had the $100 million Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, the $200 million Community Energy Efficiency Program and the $40 million Remote Indigenous Energy Program. Those last three funds, $340 million in total, were directed at empowering communities to seize their energy futures by investing in renewable energy, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce power prices.

Well, where are we now? The Australian Energy Market Operator has found that there will be 15 gigawatts of coal-fired power which will retire over the next 20 years. Matt Kean, the Liberal New South Wales energy minister, has stated only as recently as last week that four of the five current coal-fired power stations in New South Wales will retire over the next 15 years. I represent the great seat of Shortland in the Hunter region and we are literally the powerhouse for the nation. Four of the five power stations in New South Wales—the four that are due to retire over the next 15 years—are in my electorate and the neighbouring electorate of Hunter. We contribute 25 per cent of the total power production in the entire country. But those four power stations are reaching the end of their technical lives. The companies have set closure dates for three of the four. AGL has said that Liddell will close in 2023, Bayswater in 2035, Eraring—the biggest power station in the country—in 2032, and AEMO has found that Vales Point is likely to retire in the second half of this decade. So we have a massive hole in our energy market which must be filled. The Australian Energy Market Operator has confirmed what every other independent expert has found, which is that the cheapest form of new power to replace it is renewable energy—solar and wind—made 100 per cent reliable, backed up through pumped hydro storage and batteries. That is the future. But the people who are holding the future at bay, who are standing up against the future, are the reactionaries in the current government. I won't call them liberals, because they're not liberals. They are reactionaries. They are the last vestiges of the DLP holding back the future.

What have we seen in the last year? Renewables energy investment has fallen off a cliff. In the last quarter only three projects reached financial closure. Investment is down 50 per cent from where it averaged in the 2019 calendar year. A study by the Clean Energy Council and the UTS found that 11,000 jobs will be lost in the industry over the next two years due to this government's policy vacuum. This government, which has presided over the national economy for seven years, has had 19 energy policies in those seven years. How can you invest in an asset that has a 40-year pay-back span when the policy is changing more than once a year? In fact, in one two-week period, it had three different energy policies. I've seen greater stability in third-world juntas than we're getting out of the mob that is in power now!

The tragedy is that, as a result of the power games they're playing—the fact that they're being held hostage by fossils like Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly in their party room, who reject the science of climate change—it is households that are paying. Households are paying more for their power than they need to because those opposite aren't supporting investment in renewable energy. It's the planet that is suffering, because we're not reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as fast as we can. We're also losing out on the massive economic opportunities of our becoming a renewable energy export super power. We would still be one of the greatest exporters of energy in the world. We would just be exporting renewable energy through hydrogen, through DC underwater cables and through energy intensive manufacturing, through low-energy prices, in aluminium smelting and steelmaking.

This is the future if we invest in renewable energy. Those opposite will stand condemned by history because they are standing in the way of that. They reject the science on climate change. They reject market economics. All they're interested in is lining the pockets of their mates. (Time expired)

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.