Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

10:42 am

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Neutralise it. Exactly, Senator Collins. What better way of doing that than a bucket of money to hand out to your National Party colleagues to go plant trees? 'We will call that direct action.' I tell you what, Mr Abbott: if you want direct action, you are going to get it. You are going to get it at the coal terminals in Newcastle. You are going to get it around gas fracking. You are going to get it when farmers lock the gate. If you want direct action, direct action is what you will get. Coming out, then, and saying that this government is open for business in matters of technology and energy investment—while doing everything you can to wreck progress in that sector—belies the fact that this is a government that is setting out to systematically undermine renewable energy technology because it threatens the vested interests of the coal and gas industries which donate so generously to the Liberal and National parties every year. That is why the Nationals take the side of the gas industry over farmers; it is why the Liberal Party takes the side of the oil, gas and coal industries over the new industries we hold in trust to prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

This is not simply a technology debate we are having. This is not an industry policy debate we are having. This is debate about whether, in 40 or 50 years time, we live in a world with two degrees of climate change or whether we are on the path to four degrees. Four degrees will put us into a new geological era. It is the other side of a mass extinction. It means sea level rise and communities having to withdraw from coastlines. It means withering droughts that destroy farming communities permanently. It means, by the end of this century, towns like Kalgoorlie, Darwin and Port Hedland being in climate zones that do not presently exist on the planet. We are not just having a technology debate here. The people who will look back from those future times on the debates occurring in this parliament, over bills like this, will not thank us. They will not appreciate the three-word slogans. They will not have joined the people's revolt—the one that did not happen.

As it happens, I have had a bit to do with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in Western Australia. They briefed a meeting, ironically enough, of your stakeholders—the mining industry—in Kalgoorlie earlier this year to explain how the mechanism would work. They said: 'We are not a grants organisation. We are not here to write out cheques that we won't see again. We are here to get the industry on its feet.' And the first people at the front of the queue will be the gold and nickel producers in the goldfields who are looking for some kind of hedge against skyrocketing gas and diesel prices. They are the ones who will build the first iteration of this technology in Western Australia. Not because they are driven by the climate imperative—they are driven by commercial imperatives and they are looking to get technology into the ground that can protect them from rising energy costs. I say to those interests, those mining companies who will be the first ones to build the next generation of this technology: go for it. You have our backing. You have our blessings. If there is anything we can do, inside or outside of this parliament, to make sure those investments are made and those projects are built, the Greens will do it.

We wrote the policy because the state government failed to do so. Having sacked and washed out the entire bureaucracy and the people with expertise in these matters, there was nobody left in the state government to write the renewable energy strategy for Western Australia, so we did it with the help of some consultants, some engineers and some people with experience in the Western Australian energy market. We developed a proposal called Energy 2029 that put the question: could we go 100 per cent renewable on the south-west energy grid of WA? Could we keep the refineries and the chemical industries in Kwinana, keep the lights on and the air conditioners running, and go 100 per cent renewable by the year 2029? That will be the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Swan River colony and the occupation of south-west Western Australia.. Let's give ourselves something to celebrate in year 2029 with a 100 per cent renewable energy industry.

But before we put that on the bumper sticker we asked the engineers if it could be done and at what cost. What would be the technology mixes? Where would you build the kit? What would it look like and what would the jobs implications be? Before we put it on the bumper sticker, let us find out if it is possible. So we released a costed technical report in March, outlining two scenarios to reach 100 per cent renewable energy in Western Australia by 2029 and one for 'Barnett as usual'—one where we just keep on polluting until we have firmly turned the weather against us and business as usual is no longer possible. We showed we can get there for the same cost as business as usual because, by the year 2029, we will have eliminated fuel costs.

That is the key thing I do not think the coalition gets about renewable energy: it is capital intensive and costs very little to run because sunshine is free. Tidal energy is free. The wind is free. That is what you do not get. That is the profound change that our energy networks are in the early stages of going through and they need government assistance to get there. What has never been manifested on that side of the chamber is any sense of urgency about the challenges we face.

We found that construction for the Energy 2029 program would create more than 26,000 new jobs, including 8,000 to 18,000 in solar thermal farms and 2,500 in energy storage. That is three times as many people as are presently employed in the coal, oil and gas extraction industries in Western Australia. If you are serious about jobs—if you really want people to believe you are open for business—then lift your eyes to what is happening in energy markets around the world. We need to catalyse this change in WA.

Renewable energy can be used as another crop in rotation, providing a new and reliable source of income for our farmers. Senator Lines touched on some of these issues before. There are huge potentials in the wheat belt for farmers who are really struggling with changing climate patterns and volatile world markets for their commodities to introduce an energy crop into the rotation. I am speaking in particular of the instance of oil mallee cropping in the Western Australia wheat belt.

The CEFC briefed the goldfields mining interests, the council and the development commission on the possibilities for large-scale solar thermal. This is the really interesting technology where we can dispose of the notion that when the sun goes down the lights go off. We can now build baseload solar thermal plants that run 24/7.

Senator Milne and I visited a utility-scale plant in the south of Spain about this time last year. It had just been running for a full 365-day cycle. It is like a magnifying glass a mile across. It cooks a molten salt solution up to 600 degrees. You bank that for use after dark, and you can run steam turbines 24/7 as a baseload plant. A company called SolarReserve are setting up a plant, which they are commissioning this month in the high country of Nevada, that is six times the size of that plant in Spain. They are scouting Australia to open an office here. I have been putting the proposition that they open it in Western Australia because I seriously believe that the goldfields in central Pilbara are the first places in Australia where these stations should be built. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young, from South Australia, might disagree. I am happy to get in a race with Port Augusta for the first one to be built. I do not mind—we just need to get on the go.

These are the new technologies that need the kind of support that is being provided by ARENA and the CEFC. The last thing these industries can put up with is the idea that you would pull it apart around them.

We hear a lot in this place and from this government about red tape and green tape—and, on a bad day, if you have Aboriginal interests that you are trying to sideline over land rights, it will tell us about black tape. But this package of bills represents a mass of brown tape—a cynical and systematic attempt to hobble the clean energy technologies that are poised to outcompete 20th century coal and gas interests. Brown tape is what is keeping the Australian economy in the fossil age even as the world moves with determination towards the clean energy age.

What kind of government wants to be the first in the world to dismantle a functioning carbon price system? It is the kind of government that has failed the most basic obligation that it owes to its electors: the long-term wellbeing, protection and security of its people.


Mark Duffett
Posted on 10 Dec 2013 5:07 pm

Ludlam is being extremely economical with the truth about Spanish solar thermal. He mentions '365 day cycle' and '24/7', but note he does not say '24/7/365'. That's because its true production record is more like 24/7/36, in other words, about a tenth as good as it needs to be. Not only that, at only 20 MW the plants' capacity is tiny. Renewables manifestly aren't scaling up at anything like the required magnitude. They are 'getting the job done' only in his dreams. Ludlam's irrational opposition to nuclear is helping doom Australia to emission reduction failure.