Monday, 27 November 2023
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) notes that industrial scale reckless renewable energy proposals, and their associated transmission lines are economically, socially and environmentally untenable for the following reasons:
(a) they involve significant land clearing and invasive construction, destroying prime agricultural land, native bushland and wildlife habitats;
(b) the location and proximity of transmission lines lead to the devaluation of land and the interruption of agricultural businesses;
(c) the proposals divide communities and cause mental anguish; and
(d) the costs of these proposals are prone to blow out; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) impose a moratorium on industrial scale renewable energy projects until the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is amended to require the automatic referral of such projects for assessment under the Act;
(b) support a Senate inquiry into the economic, social and environmental impacts of industrial scale reckless renewable energy projects, and their associated transmission lines;
(c) conduct a thorough and transparent feasibility study into the alternative development of next generation zero-emission nuclear technology as a future sustainable energy source;
(d) require state and territory governments to avoid the use of private land for projects and transmission lines where such projects attract Commonwealth funding; and
(e) work with state and territory governments to review energy and transmission line project evaluation processes to ensure that environmental, social and economic impacts are given full consideration as part of the assessment process.
The genesis of this motion calling for greater scrutiny of industrial-scale, land-intensive intermittent electricity generation projects lies in the distress and despair that are leaving lives in tatters in my seat of Wide Bay. Not much is more sacred than the family home, and in regional Australia that family home also includes a block of land. It's part of our vernacular: the great Australian dream.
That dream involves a block of land for business, to garden, to farm, to keep as native bush or to do whatever you like with because it's your land. Unreliable energy and associated transmission lines are taking the great Australian dream for many of my people and turning it into a nightmare. What people have worked their entire lives or for generations for is under threat by Labor governments intent on making electricity bills more expensive and energy unreliable.
One constituent bought her rural block for the trees, but the transmission lines, when finished, will leave her no mature trees on her block whatsoever. Another spent $9,000 planning their dream family home, and the transmission lines would run right through her living room if she built that home; it's completely unviable. People fight for years, writing submissions and enduring meaningless bureaucratic consultation sessions thousands of hours away from their family and work after being channelled into stopping massive transmission lines and industrial-scale energy projects from destroying their homes and communities.
Last week, climate change minister Chris Bowen announced subsidies for another 32 gigawatts of unreliable energy. That is equivalent to half the national energy market. He has yet to release the cost, how much land will be required for the projects or how many properties will be acquired to connect them to the grid. For example, a single solar farm in my electorate at Munna Creek requires 460 hectares. The Lower Wonga Solar Farm will require up to 600 hectares. Forest Wind, between Maryborough and Gympie, spreads 226 wind turbines over 226 hectares. Borumba Pumped Hydro will inundate up to 1,500 hectares. At this rate, Wide Bay will be inundated and carpeted in solar panels to achieve Labor's policy.
Professor Simon Bartlett, the former COO of Powerlink, says the $14.2 billion Borumba scheme will need to be switched off during an El Nino weather event. This Thursday will be another dark day, when Powerlink reveals which properties will go under the proposed Borumba transmission lines to Woolooga, which will involve ripping up between 54 and 83 kilometres of forest. A farmer can't cut down a tree, but foreign developers can flatten thousands of hectares to build wind factories, solar plants and hydro-impoundments, with their transmission lines cutting scars across Wide Bay. Labor's policy is fundamentally flawed and will ultimately be unnecessary, and the landowners are rightfully distressed. So-called renewables supply about 30 per cent of our electricity. As it is, to meet the Albanese government's targets, these renewables must supply 82 per cent of the electricity by 2030.
Land-intensive, intermittent power generation projects will cause irreversible damage to homes, communities and prime agricultural land while destroying the environment and natural wildlife habitats. The same people who are so strongly advocating this 80 per cent target and espouse the social virtues of countries like Canada and Norway are conspicuously silent when those countries' embrace of nuclear power comes up. For families facing diving property values and places they can't farm or build their homes on anymore, the stress, anguish and mental health toll is rising.
CHARLTON () (): The member for Wide Bay has raised a range of issues associated with the rollout of renewable energy across Australia—a rollout which is critical for our nation's ability to meet the challenge of the future to address climate change through an energy transition. He talked about land use, intermittency and habitat impacts, but the question here isn't whether the energy transition is hard or not. We all know the energy transition will be one of the greatest economic challenges we face. The question is: what is the alternative to that energy transition?
The thing that we know is that the alternative, of not doing anything, will be a disaster. It will condemn future generations to unpredictable and devastating weather that will significantly infringe on our way of life. To get up in this place and complain about the impacts of renewable energy without proposing an alternative shows the essential core of the Liberal and National Party, which is nothing more than rank climate scepticism.
We have had this for decades—decades of making the perfect the enemy of the good, decades of complaints about the renewable energy transition which ultimately end up in inaction. We had it from Tony Abbott, who in 2009 called the science of climate change 'absolute crap'. In 2017 he referred to renewables like solar and wind as 'intermittent and unreliable power', and now his most recent venture has been to join a climate-sceptic think tank in the UK. Even Malcolm Turnbull was unable to deliver climate change action through his leadership of the Liberal Party. In 2009 he said of the Liberal Party: 'They simply do not believe in human-caused global warming.' He tried as Prime Minister to steer his party towards a more serious position on renewables and could not.
This motion here today is exactly the problem. It's exactly why we have had 10 years of denial and delay and it's exactly why Australia is now so far behind in the race towards the energy transition and the industries of the future. People who fundamentally don't believe in climate change fall over at the first hurdle of difficulty. Whether it be solving how we manage the energy transition while maximising land use or whether it be finding solutions to the problem of intermittency or to preserving habitats, the opposition fall over at the first hurdle for the simple reason that they do not believe in climate change and do not accept its impacts.
Even the member for Cook, when he was Prime Minister, stood in front of the world at COP26 and declared that the government was acting on climate change 'the Australian way'. The so-called Australian way has, for the last decade, seen four gigawatts of dispatchable power leave the grid and only one gigawatt replace it. That's not the Australian way; that's capitulation. That's a decade of inaction and incompetence by a government that never took climate change and renewable energy seriously.
You don't need to look any further than the member for Hume—the former Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction—who advocated against emissions reduction. This is what the member for Hume had to say in 2019. He wrote in the Financial Review:
The energy sector, in particular, now has a choice. Should CEOs capitulate to the demands from the green left to prematurely close down coal and gas generators, without regard for customers? Or should they focus more on those quiet Australians in the suburbs and regions, the small businesses they run and the industries they work for?
The member for Hume didn't do anything about our energy transition. He oversaw energy capacity leaving Australia's grid. That's fundamentally because he represents a party that doesn't believe in climate change and will therefore always fall over at the first hurdle.
The Leader of the Opposition—this is the man who joked about rising sea levels in the Pacific—now wants to be taken seriously on climate change, and his solution, instead of renewables, is nuclear energy. Well, I'm really looking forward to him travelling the nation and explaining that to communities—not about the habitat destruction or land use issues raised by the member for Wide Bay; I'm really looking forward to him explaining that he's going to save that land but put a nuclear reactor in the backyard. That's a conversation we're willing to have. (Time expired)
The transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power has profound implications not only for our environment but also for the very fabric of our communities. We must confront the stark reality that this government's ambitious push towards achieving 82 per cent renewables by 2030 has ignited a recklessness that adversely impacts farmers and regional communities in every corner of our vast nation.
The urgency to achieve this renewable energy target has unfortunately led to a hasty approach that neglects the intricate tapestry of our communities.
Our farmers, the backbone of our nation, bear the brunt of significant land clearing and invasive construction associated with these renewable energy initiatives. Prime agricultural land, essential for our food security, is sacrificed in the name of progress. The interruption to agriculture businesses, the devaluation of land and the uncertainty that shrouds their future demand a more considered and collaborative approach to ensure the co-existence of sustainable energy initiatives in the vital agriculture sector. Moreover, the rush towards renewables has cast a shadow over regional communities, creating divisions and causing mental anguish among residents.
We should not disregard the human toll associated with Labor's commitment to transition to renewable energy at all costs. Our regional communities deserve a future that is not marred by social discord but is characterised by unity, resilience and shared prosperity. These renewable energy initiatives are pitting neighbour against neighbour. Those fortunate enough to receive financial compensation for hosting projects on their land reap the rewards. Meanwhile, those residing in close proximity contend with the devaluation of their land, disruptions to their agriculture operations and the challenging toll on their mental health. Farmers and other landowners find themselves in a precarious position as they grapple with the intricacies of negotiating complex commercial agreements required for renewable energy projects.
The Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner has heralded a number of issues surrounding renewable energy contracts which would leave the host property to deal with the decommissioning of wind turbines at the end of their operational life. I refer to page 37 of the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner's annual report, where it states:
… some published decommissioning plans have calculated costs … up to $600,000 … If a turbine has a structural failure and is unstable, it could cost millions of dollars to safely remove the turbine from site.
To put these costs into perspective, the total fees earned for hosting a turbine for 25 years could be in the range of $250,000 - $750,000 …
Hence, there exists the possibility that the expense associated with decommissioning a turbine might be equivalent to or even surpass the overall income earned by the landholder throughout the 25-year operational span.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that these large-scale renewable energy projects involve significant land clearing and invasive construction. The destruction of these natural habitats for renewable energy poses a severe threat to our native wildlife, as many species rely on these for their survival. Lying 175 kilometres north-west of Rockhampton is the Lotus Creek Wind Farm. In June 2020, the former minister for the environment rejected the $100-million Lotus Creek Wind Farm project as it would clear old-growth forests, which are imperative for the protection of vulnerable and threatened species such as the koala and greater glider. Conservationist and filmmaker Stephen Murkowski has said the Lotus Creek project area is worthy of becoming Queensland's great koala national park. This stunning old-growth landscape supports critically endangered wildlife, and we're carving it up for green energy. This must be stopped now.
Despite this, Labor has given the green light on the Lotus Creek Wind Farm, which will see 55 wind turbines have a direct impact on almost 3,045 hectares of koala habitat. Addressing this multifaceted issue goes beyond the immediate concerns of individual landowners and communities. It speaks to the broader need for fairness and equity. As such, I call on the government to enforce a temporary suspension on large-scale renewable energy projects until amendments are made to the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act requiring the automatic referral of these projects for assessment under the act. I will continue to advocate for an inquiry into the community-wide economic, social and environmental repercussions stemming from these large-scale, irresponsible renewable energy projects.
This is a hopeless motion that I rise to speak against. There are only two good things about this motion: one, it gives me another chance to outline the very real, necessary and beneficial steps that this government is taking to meet the climate crisis; and two, it portrays the incapacity of the coalition to understand, accept or act on the challenge before us.
There are many portfolio areas in which the coalition is not fit to govern, and I say that climate change is first among them.
The motion uses words like 'industrial scale', 'reckless' and 'untenable'. Industrial scale: there are a lot of things that are industrial scale, especially industries, and that includes renewable industries. This is good. Reckless: well, things are only reckless if they're not necessary. If you agree that they're necessary, then they can't be reckless; they're necessary. And then untenable: the only thing untenable in this debate is the coalition's position, or lack thereof, on climate change and energy policy.
This motion also mentions the EPBC process, and I hope that the member for Wide Bay will be a great supporter of the new EBPC Act, a real champion of the new federal EPA. If he is such a believer in environmental protection, we have to ask him: why did his party not take action on the Samuel review and strengthen the act while in government? I expect the member to be backing in the government's changes next year. Let's see what he does. In any event, the act will apply to the right projects to progress change for our climate.
So what has the government done thus far to meet the climate change challenge? We've enshrined Australia's emissions targets and legislation with the Climate Change Act of 2022. We've established a purposeful safeguard mechanism to ensure emissions reductions by our largest carbon emitters. We've rolled out six offshore wind zones across Australia to support the transition to 82 per cent renewable power by 2030. We've made record investments in renewables—solar, wind, green hydrogen, storage and transmission—through Rewiring the Nation, including capacity and research. We've launched Australia's first Electric Vehicle Strategy and are reviewing our fuel efficiency standards. And we're installing 400 community batteries around Australia to enable households to share in the generation of solar energy. And, yes, there is a lot more, but, of course, I only have five minutes to speak. But I want to give a shoutout to the expansion of capacity investment scheme. This is going to make an absolutely huge difference, and industry are welcoming the announcement by Minister Bowen.
The motion mentions nuclear power. Well, of course it does! But the member for Wide Bay should realise this is a mere pretence. Nuclear is much more expensive and dirty, and the small reactor technology isn't proven. Our top scientists recommend against it. The Liberal Party pretend to be interested in nuclear power for Australia even though they know it doesn't stack up because they want to curry favour with the nuclear industry. The nuclear industry pretend that they don't know it will never happen, perhaps trying to curry favour with investors—and I'll come back to the investors. These meetings that they're having must be wonderful, with everyone in the room pretending they're talking about something real and everyone knowing they aren't. They're a waste of everyone's time when we don't have time to waste.
In December last year the member for Fairfax launched his website Time To Talk Nuclear, and he said he paid for it, but then we learnt that the web domain was registered by Helixos Pty Ltd, a Sydney based consulting company whose clients include the US company NuScale Power. Perhaps they both paid for it. It's fishy. But, hey, there's more. Two weeks ago NuScale Power announced it was abandoning its plans to build a small nuclear reactor in Idaho due to—you guessed it!—rising costs. And just last year week we learnt that NuScale Power had been hit with—wait for it—an investor lawsuit over the deal. It's a house of cards. And it's a measure of the coalition's inability to truly grapple with climate change or with energy policy that they chose the member for Wide Bay and the member for Fairfax, with his single-minded, evidence-averse penchant for nuclear, to be the spokespeople in this particular area.
Labor sits in the only position that is tenable. We accept the science and we seek to act in a way that delivers the most benefit to reducing emissions while protecting the economy, looking after community concerns and, most importantly, protecting the environment, which is what this is all about. We seek to achieve the difficult and possible. The Greens criticise us from their comfortable position of never having to govern or make any serious or difficult decisions, and then we have the coalition—and I'm going to put this back on the member for Fairfax who simply— (Time expired)
I rise to support the member for Wide Bay's motion that notes that industrial-scale reckless renewable energy proposals and their associated transmission lines are economically, socially and environmentally untenable for many reasons.
I have spoken many times on this topic, and now it's starting to become a big issue in many rural communities across Australia. People are becoming painfully aware of the enormous footprint that these renewable energy projects and associated transmission lines will have on the general countryside. Add to that the environmental damage, the social implications, the economic cost, the lack of consultation and the realisation that government policy supporting these proposals has been deliberately designed that way so that these communities cannot stop these projects, regardless of the consequences that these small communities will have to endure.
Central Queensland is playing host to many of these developments—wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, transmission lines, pumped hydro and so on. There are literally dozens of these projects in various stages of the approval process across Central Queensland. What really concerns me are the eternal questions asking, 'What are we achieving by doing this?' and 'What is the economic cost?' I would like to concentrate on these two aspects in my contribution today.
Last year, Minister Bowen gave a speech that declared that Australia would have 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030, that 22,000 solar panels would need to be built every day between then and 2030, that 40 wind turbines would need to be constructed every month from then to 2030 and that 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines would have to be built to connect all of this infrastructure to the grid. I am yet to read anywhere or hear from any of the so-called experts in the know that this is remotely possible. The practical reality of delivering the government's obsession with renewables has been lost.
Nearly every day that I sit in parliament the government gives us their rhetoric on how renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy—it happened today in question time—yet people's power bills continue to rise to unaffordable levels. The government made an election commitment to reduce people's power bills by $275, and they have delivered nothing except an increase in power prices. Furthermore, the climate change and energy minister is proposing to increase, fivefold, taxpayer funding of these renewable energy projects. The estimated cost is $1.5 trillion by 2030, in the hope of achieving this unachievable goal of 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030. What this will achieve is higher energy prices for the consumer and more subsidies to foreign owned companies who own these projects and produce the components required to build these projects. As far as the climate or the weather is concerned, it will achieve absolutely nothing.
Australia has very large resources of coal, gas and uranium. They are among the cleanest and most economically viable in the world, and we should have the cheapest power in the world, yet this mindless argument of renewable energy is crippling Australian business and industry and is driving that production offshore to places like China, where no such climate or energy policies like Australia's exist.
The cost of living is probably the single biggest issue that concerns most Australians. Families are struggling to pay their electricity bills, secure their mortgages, pay their insurance, buy their groceries, fuel their motor vehicles, educate their children and so on. These cost-of-living pressures are directly related to energy policy, the safeguard mechanism policy and the whole 'net zero carbon by 2050' debate.
What amazes me is that many people have not yet joined the dots. For example, the safeguard mechanism imposed on industries like the cement industry has forced the price of concrete up. Companies are passing on their costs to the consumer. A house becomes more expensive to build, and therefore an existing house becomes more expensive to buy, making it harder for somebody to save up for a deposit for a house. Wind turbines require several hundred tonnes of concrete to make the footings, making them more expensive to build and therefore requiring more subsidy from the government to achieve their build targets.
Make no mistake: the unrealistic renewable energy targets, the safeguard mechanism and the 'net zero carbon by 2050' debate are all interrelated and will ultimately deliver economic pain for the Australian consumer and deliver no environmental outcomes for the planet.
Yet again, we're getting up in this place to debate another cynical attempt by those opposite to undermine Australia's transition to renewable energy.
Every week, they come in here with a new attempt to try to delay and derail the nation's switch to renewable energy. Recently, we had the member for Hughes bring a motion blaming potential energy blackouts on renewable energy and then we had the member for Grey, in another motion, scandalously implying that renewable energy is a security risk to Australia. And this is even before we get into the long list of motions on nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy: the coalition were in power for 10 years but are only talking about it now that they're in opposition. This is because those opposite have a deep rooted opposition to renewable energy, and this is yet another attempt to undermine what Australians voted for. It's disheartening to witness a continual effort by the opposition to cast doubt on the very solutions that will lead us to a sustainable and more prosperous future. It's disheartening because, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and global consensus on the need for sustainable practices, the opposition continues to prioritise short-term political gain over the long-term wellbeing of our planet, our country and its citizens.
All of a sudden, in opposition to more renewable energy, the Leader of the Opposition cares about whales. Instead of working with communities to overcome challenges, they will come in here and peddle conspiracy theories over backing proven technologies to combat climate change. Instead of embracing the opportunities that renewable energy represents—job creation, technological advancement and, of course, reduced emissions—the opposition seems determined to deploy tactics designed to hinder progress. And, at a time when the world is transitioning to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, the opposition's stance is to cling on to outdated technology that no longer serves the interests of our nation.
In an era where the global community is grappling with the profound challenges posed by climate change, where we are all struggling with rising fossil fuel energy costs and pressure on household budgets, it's disconcerting to see the Liberals day in, day out oppose renewable energy. Not only are those opposite trying to undermine the important steps by this government; they are actively trying to stop regional communities from receiving the benefits that clean energy can bring to them. Renewable energy projects not only represent a monumental shift towards cleaner and more sustainable energy but also create invaluable opportunities for increased work in regional communities.
Renewable energy is good for the environment and it's good for jobs. And the more jobs we have, the more prosperous our nation is. Renewable energy zones and their associated infrastructure represent an opportunity to supercharge jobs in our regions. Done right, with the appropriate amount of community consultation, these investments will create well-paid jobs. For the opposition to spread conspiracy theories and cast doubt about these transformative projects is not only irresponsible but undermines the true potential that renewable energy projects hold to enhance the environmental sustainability and economic prosperity of our nation.
We're not only paving the way for more secure, reliable, sustainable energy for our country but prioritising the communities at the heart of these policies, because this government wants the communities where these renewable energy projects are to have a clear stake in the benefits of this nation building investment. Already, our efforts have delivered an impressive commitment to genuine engagement. Changes made to bolster consultation have resulted in meetings with nearly 500 stakeholders and, of course, submissions from right around the country.
Our commitment to engage with communities is in stark contrast to the fearmongering tactics employed by those opposite, who seem more interested in running scare campaigns about renewable energy than engaging constructively with the community. The government is actively partnering with states, territories and the transmission network service providers to enhance planning, community engagement and community outcomes for these new renewable energy projects, as we should. The switch to renewable energy is crucial for our nation, is crucial for the environment and is crucial for our economy.
I thank the member for Wide Bay for this motion and I join with the member in acknowledging the impacts the development of renewable energy infrastructure can have on communities, on the environment, on agricultural production and on local businesses.
I hear the legitimate concerns that people in my electorate of Indi and across Australia are raising regarding these issues. Regional communities are playing host to almost all the infrastructure needed to deliver Australia's clean energy transition. These communities deserve to be listened to, and their voices need to be part of the decision-making process when it comes to rolling out new solar PV, wind, battery and transmission infrastructure. Importantly, if projects are to be built, these communities should be receiving long-term benefits in return for hosting infrastructure.
I've spoken with landholders and communities across my electorate—from Ruffy, Barnawartha, Dederang, Winton, Bobinawarrah and Meadow Creek. What I've heard from these communities is that, in almost all cases, community engagement and benefit sharing to date has been disappointing at best and non-existent at worst. We need to do better. I hear concerns relating to potential fire risks from batteries or solar PV, I hear concerns around the ability of neighbours to access and afford adequate insurance, and I hear concerns about the logic of using land of high agricultural or environmental value for energy projects. We cannot ignore the mental anguish, stress and community division that emerges when there is uncertainty about proposed renewable energy infrastructure developments. Communities need and deserve answers to their questions, and we should be clear: not every question and not every concern is an objection to renewable energy.
We need a rapid expansion of renewable energy projects if we are to meet the government's targets of a 43 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. We need to do our fair share to avoid the worst impacts of global heating. Almost all concerned community members I speak to acknowledge and support this expansion—they just want the transition to be done right. If done right, the energy transition can act as an accelerator of economic development and prosperity for regional Australia. If done right, it could be our next gold rush. If done wrong, we risk project delays, we risk our decarbonisation goals and we ignore the genuine concerns of regional communities. We need constructive solutions to deliver positive outcomes for all Australians, and I'm working hard to do just this, by listening to my constituents and working with communities and experts at all levels of government to shift Australia onto the path of a renewable energy transition done right.
Sadly, we're not seeing such constructive action from the coalition. Instead, all we are seeing are attempts to use the legitimate concerns of farmers and landholders in rural Australia as a political tool to stoke division, and that is shameful. With this motion, the member for Wide Bay raises genuine concerns. But this is not a motion put forward in good faith. Oh no, this is an attempt by the coalition to stall necessary progress, to sell nuclear pipedreams and, as a result, to leave Australians without the solutions and to leave Australians divided. I reject these political games played at the cost of all Australians, and I reject them as a regional Australian. We must not divide regional Australia. Instead, I engage in good faith, using what is in the best interests of my constituents and Australia as my guiding compass. I am a strong and practical voice for farmers and regional Australians and I work effectively with communities to advance constructive solutions.
Together with the many community energy groups across Indi and the country, I developed the local power plan and introduced the Australian Local Power Agency Bill to parliament. More recently, Senator Pocock and I worked with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy to initiate a review into community engagement and benefit sharing around renewable energy infrastructure projects. I ensured that one of the review's round tables took place in Wangaratta and that landholders and community groups were there. I made a detailed submission to the review, with 15 recommendations, including clearly identifying no-go zones not suitable for renewable energy infrastructure development—including land that has very high agricultural or environmental value—ensuring projects do not adversely impact the availability or the affordability of insurance for neighbouring landholders, strong community engagement guidelines requiring developers to conduct honest engagement and requiring all large-scale new developments to offer at least 20 per cent equity to regional communities. I await eagerly the outcome of this review. (Time expired)
I thank the member for Wide Bay for his motion, although I join the member for Indi in questioning his motives in putting this motion forward.
The motion leads with transmission lines, and I will talk about those in a moment, but buried near the end of this motion, it calls on the government to conduct a feasibility study into a future sustainable energy source. Guess what that source might be? It's nuclear! What a surprise. I think perhaps the member for Wide Bay has been channelling the other O'Brien in the building, the member for Fairfax, because we know that the member for Fairfax has an unhealthy obsession with nuclear, despite all the experts telling us that it is not the solution for Australia, that in fact the method being proposed by the coalition doesn't even exist in technology. Yet it is the obsession that we hear over and over again from the member for Fairfax and now, it seems, from the member for Wide Bay. It also, of course, conveniently forgets all the forms of renewable energy in which the experts tell us Australia can be a leader, Australia can be a renewable energy superpower.
At the heart of all of this is the need to deal with climate change. Australians and this government know we need to be taking action right now to limit the impact of climate change on our world. Australians know we need to be serious about climate action, and that's why 18 months ago they elected our government, to be serious about the challenges that climate change is creating in our communities, to get real and to take real action. Our government has been doing exactly that.
We know that transmission lines are significant infrastructure. They are also absolutely essential to Australia's energy grid and building our energy grid toward zero emissions. It is important that we listen to community concerns. It is also important that we guide the transition towards our renewable energy future. We are supercharging Australia's take-up of renewable energy, because it's good for the climate, it's good for jobs and it's good for households. Emissions reduction and locking in Australia's energy security are vital to communities across the country.
Last week, our government announced another huge step forward in this regard with the expansion of the Capacity Investment Scheme. This scheme will secure a reliable energy grid for our country, powered by cleaner, cheaper renewable energy. It makes sure that new energy projects are coming online before the old generators leave, supercharging the available power in the grid.
The closest thing those opposite have to a plan is pausing the renewable storage investment we desperately need to chase nuclear fantasies and stoking division in local communities. Unlike the coalition, our government understands Australia's huge potential as a renewable superpower and we're working hard to deliver on that promise. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has always been someone who hasn't been afraid to deploy fear to try to get what he wants. But you have to laugh a little, because in the latest frolic into offshore wind, the Leader of the Opposition has said:
When you look at the whales, and the mother and the calf that we saw out there, the dolphins - all of that is at risk because there's no environmental consideration…
The Leader of the Opposition, now the protector of the whale calf and defender of the environment! It's about as unbelievable as the time he told us he was going to smile more and show us his happy-go-lucky side. Australians can see right through this. Every environment group has said this is not a genuine concern. People know that the opposition is playing politics with really important issues here. Of course, when the Leader of the Opposition decided to try and position himself as the great protector of whales and their calves, he did forget a key point. As the Australian Conservation Foundation pointed out, the evidence shows that whales swim around ocean infrastructure. They're quite clever, those whales; they're quite smart, in fact, smarter than those opposite, it seems.
Our government will keep working with other governments at state and territory levels, with business, with industry and, most importantly, with local communities as we continue on the path to an ambitious scaling up of renewable energy. What we won't be doing is causing mischief and spreading misinformation, as those opposite and their friends have been doing with transmission lines and with offshore wind. This is irresponsible behaviour. What we won't be doing is selling the ridiculous idea of nuclear energy as Australia's solution to climate change, because every expert tells us it isn't. I'm proud to be part of a responsible government that's doing serious and important work to address a defining challenge of our time, climate change, and to embrace a renewable future that is good for all Australians.
As I stand to speak to this motion, I can't help but be bemused by the use of words like 'reckless' and 'economically, socially and environmentally untenable' to describe renewable energy proposals. How can the member for Wide Bay move such a motion in good conscience, knowing we are facing the extraordinary challenge of weaning our society and our economy from our fossil fuel addiction to ensure future generations not only have an environment to live in but one they can survive?
I want to start by addressing the fact that this motion conveniently shares just one part of the story. While the motion criticises renewable energy projects for what it claims to be 'significant land clearing and invasive construction', it is silent on the destruction already wrought on our environment by fossil fuel projects.
There are currently 36,000 kilometres of rail line in Australia, and 80 per cent of the freight carried on those lines is coal or iron ore. In Queensland, coal alone is 12 per cent of freight, while in New South Wales it's 13 per cent. If we assume coal and other fossil fuel make up around 40 per cent of our freight rail, the pro rata footprint is around 14½ thousand kilometres of rail infrastructure. If you add to this the over 1,600 kilometres of pipelines for oil and a further 23,000 kilometres for gas, and then include the existing transmission lines for the Australian fossil fuel based electricity system, at around 40,000 kilometres, we end up with a fossil fuel supply chain footprint in Australia that extends over 80,000 kilometres. By comparison, AEMO estimates that we need 10,000 kilometres of transmission lines to facilitate our energy transition.
Taking this one step further, gas and oil pipelines typically have a 30-metre wide right-of-way corridor, and railways are similar. If you take the 80,000-kilometre footprint and multiply it by the required corridor allowances, 2.4 million square kilometres is currently set aside to accommodate fossil fuel energy generation. By contrast, the highest voltage transmission lines have a 60-metre wide corridor, meaning the new renewable energy infrastructure will have less than half the footprint—just 600,000 kilometres—of the current fossil fuel assets. I ask the member for Wide Bay: as you prepared this motion, did you consider the environmental impacts of the energy system that already exists, or was it just far too convenient to completely overlook them?
Let me continue by explaining that Australia currently has around 200 known coal deposits and 100 coal mines. The five largest of these produce 87 million tonnes of coal per year. But coal only burns with about 30 per cent efficiency in the conversion to electricity, so from this yield we get about 190,000 gigawatts of electricity per year. Google Earth shows that these mines and associated facilities cover about 292 square kilometres. If that same land was dedicated to commercial solar, it's estimated it would produce 112,000 gigawatts—more than half of what these coalmines do. But the big difference is that the land could be used for a dual purpose, with agrovoltaics making each square kilometre of land significantly more productive.
I agree that we must ensure generation and transmission project standards for renewables meet world's best environmental stewardship practice; however, I suspect our reasons for advocating for this are different. For me, I believe it's important because I want to ensure that, as we transition, we do so in a way which is good not just for humanity but for biodiversity in the wider sense. By contrast I suspect this motion was crafted in this way to ensure existing fossil fuel proponents use it as a tool to delay a cleaner energy future. A cynic would say that this is because those currently involved in the fossil fuel system are determined to extract every dollar out of the Australian market, while polluting our waterways and airways and jeopardising a stable, liveable climate moving forward, and that those who support this sector and have long benefited from donations from it have a vested interest in enabling them to do just that.
With that said, I don't believe it's unreasonable to consider nuclear power. Australia does, after all, provide a third of the world's uranium. However, I think it is highly unlikely that the Australian public will embrace it, as the challenges of dealing with the waste it produces have not been addressed. It is likely to be far more expensive, and the technology that is suggested in this motion is not only not ready for deployment; it may never be. Ultimately, it would also not be ready to deploy within a climate-necessary time frame. Even if we do pursue nuclear energy, it would require transmission infrastructure, and if we are to accept the premise of this motion—that transmission infrastructure is being rejected—why would it be different for a nuclear project?
If the member for Wide Bay really cared about the cost of energy for Australian households, he would be advocating for an overhaul of Australia's Byzantine market rules for our electricity system. (Time expired)