Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Matters of Public Importance

Renewable Energy

4:33 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, Senators Cormann and Siewert each submitted a letter to the President in accordance with standing order 75 proposing a matter of public importance. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received by the President from Senator Siewert:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The opportunity for Australian business and Government to lead the rapid growth and uptake of renewable energy, including utility-scale solar plants, a task made more urgent given recent World Bank predictions that we may be on a path to a 4 degree Celsius warmer world by the end of the century.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the required number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:34 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to absolutely support the contention that there is now a huge opportunity for Australian business and government to lead the rapid growth and uptake of renewable energy, particularly utility-scale solar plants. If ever there was a need for us to move rapidly to renewable energy it is right now, given what we know about the science of global warming. In Hobart recently we had more than 250 scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who were there to review the latest science. It is clear that, whichever area of science you look at, what we are seeing is the worst-case scenario predictions in many ways exceeded. We will expect this report from the IPCC later this year.

As this science is getting worse, as the extreme weather events are intensifying around the world, we have the stupidity of examples like Senator Barnaby Joyce this morning ridiculing the science. I do not know what Australians must think when they hear people from the conservative side of politics continuing to ridicule the science of global warming. This morning Senator Joyce said this ridiculous thing. He said that, from his latest observation, 'the carbon tax did nothing to the weather over Christmas and so, if it is going to be a response to climate change, I want my money back'. Then he mockingly referred to doomsday predictions of seven-metre sea level rises and suggested that there is a prediction that we are all going to instantaneously combust.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear!

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That kind of stupidity is clearly supported by Senator Macdonald from Queensland. The people who are suffering as a result of Cyclone Yasi and from the previous floods and those this year must be wondering when it is going to actually dawn on the coalition in Australia that not only are they jeopardising this generation and all future generations because of their determined ignorance on climate change but also they are denying Australia competitiveness in renewable energy. What we have heard from the International Energy Agency and the World Bank defies what coalition politicians in Australia would say, but of course that does not mirror Tory politics in the UK, for example. Let me just explain what we have for the benefit of those denialists. Just three months ago the World Bank warned that without immediate action global temperatures could rise by four degrees Celsius this century, with devastating consequences for coastal cities and, more particularly, the poor throughout the world who tend to live in low-lying countries. We are going to have impacts on Pacific Island nations and countries like Bangladesh, but also we are going to see countries suffering from food insecurity and a huge movement of people around the world as a consequence of failure to act on climate change. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said:

The time is very short. The world has to tackle the problem of climate change more aggressively. We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today.

This is an issue not only about maintaining a liveable world but also about maintaining a liveable world where people can experience a reasonable life and where there can be equal opportunity and not just for rich and develop companies which have more money to try to deal with the problem. But even more money does not prevent people dying from extreme heat. We know in the Australian context, as well as in the European context, that more people are dying as a result of heatwaves than other forms of extreme weather events, and Australia is not immune. We are going to see an increase in the death rate and that is why the Australian Medical Association has come out saying we have to include them in the adaptation planning in terms of climate change.

Even regarding our economic wellbeing the fact of the matter is that we have had actuaries out in the UK saying, 'We are really concerned that the failure to factor in financial models, the impact of climate change and resource scarcity is going to lead to significant losses, and that the assets of pension schemes will effectively be wiped out and pensions will be reduced to negligible levels.' People had better start thinking about what the impacts are going to be as companies keep investing in coal, coal-seam gas and fossil fuels at the end of the fossil fuel age and fail to take into account the significant shifts that have to happen.

As I mentioned, in the UK—and I had hoped the leader of the coalition, Tony Abbott, might take some notice of this—Prime Minister Cameron said at the launch of the UK's Green Deal:

… my argument today is not just about doing what is right for our planet, but doing what is right for our economy, too. Because make no mistake; we are in a global race and the countries that succeed in that race, the economies in Europe that will prosper, are those that are the greenest and the most energy efficient.

…   …   …

And in a race for limited resources it is the energy efficient that will win that race.

…   …   …

And yes, it is the countries that prioritise green energy that will secure the biggest share of jobs and growth in a global low-carbon sector set to be worth $4 trillion by 2015.

…   …   …

So to those who say we just can't afford to prioritise green energy right now, my view is we can't afford not to.

That is David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom recognising that competitiveness and jobs growth is essential and that the essential component of that is green energy, and that is why it is disgraceful that the coalition has come out and said that it will try to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. What a disgrace that is, because it is the Renewable Energy Target that is not high enough of itself to be able to bring on the next stage of technologies. We need the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to do that.

I have just come back from Spain with my colleague Senator Ludlam where we went to solar thermal plants—the concentrated solar power which the coalition says does not exist. I can tell you that we stood there and we saw it for ourselves. We were standing in the future, except that it is right now. Why is it that we cannot have these plants in Australia? We cannot have them because there is not the vision or the preparedness to recognise we need to get off fossil fuels and on to large-scale, utility-scale solar energy as quickly as possible. As to the argument that it is not dispatchable when the sun goes down; yes it is! The Gemasolar plant that we went to has molten salt technology. It heats the salt and then it transfers the heat from the salt when the sun has gone down, so you have dispatchable energy from concentrated solar power.

If we do not do this in Australia we are going to fall so far behind. The Chinese are already the world's leading country in terms of exports of renewable energy technology and they are laying down more kilometres of high-speed rail than anywhere else in the world. We are falling behind, and if the coalition gets its way we will fall so far behind we will go back to a concentration not only on fossil fuels but also a subsidy to the hilt on those fossil fuels as they cannot compete against the renewable energy future that the world is inevitably moving towards.

I strongly urge people thinking about the election this year and about the future of this country to recognise that there is huge opportunity. There is jobs growth, there is innovation. All of these things will come from the shift to a low-carbon and then a zero-carbon economy and the rollout of large-scale solar technology and other renewable energy. We cannot afford to allow the backwardness of the coalition to stop the rollout of these technologies, to try to tear down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They will not do it because it is a statutory authority. They are required to act by the law that set them up. They will be engaged in rolling out large-scale renewables this year, and the Greens will make sure that they continue to roll those out. We will never support a repeal of the legislation that set up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

We need to expand the Renewable Energy Target. We need to move as quickly as possible towards 100 per cent renewal energy, and we need to put the smiles on the faces of the next generation in Australia in terms of innovation, jobs, new technology and renewal energy. We need to let them see one of these amazing solar plants in Australia at Kalgoorlie or Port Augusta or wherever, and not have to travel to Spain or to anywhere else to see it because Australia did not have politicians with the foresight to see where the future lies. I urge the coalition to read the speech that David Cameron made in the House of Commons and realise how far to the right of Genghis Khan we have become when we have a Tory PM saying the future is in green energy and jobs.

4:44 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome this debate and take the opportunity, as Senator Milne has done, to challenge colleagues to consider where Australia is positioned in this debate about renewable energy. As Senator Milne just said, we are in a period of energy transformation and we have to confront those issues. The Gillard government have accepted the advice of scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change and we have acted on the risks that are being created for our environment, our economy and our society. We determined to join the rest of the world in cutting carbon pollution, and to play our part in tackling climate change. As Minister Combet has said repeatedly, Australia will have to transform from one of the most emissions-intensive electricity systems in the world in order to do that. But Senator Milne is absolutely right. The global clean energy economy creates huge opportunities for Australia. It is an integral part of our continued prosperity, and the economies that are driven by clean energy will be the ones that prosper in the next century. So we need to be there; we need to be playing our part. For me the question is: do we want to be among the countries that embrace energy transformation, or do we want to compromise our opportunity to benefit from the changes that are coming inevitably towards us?

The motion before us today relates to renewable energy technologies and there are already many examples of businesses that have started taking practical steps to improve their energy efficiency, reduce their power bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have heard many of these stories. In New South Wales there are great stories to tell, like Crafty Chef, Emu Plains. With the help of nearly half a million dollars from carbon pricing revenue, Crafty Chef will install a new commercial blast freezer which will actually help to reduce its emissions and carbon intensity by more than half and improve its turnover by more than 150 per cent. That is the real economic benefit of adopting this changing technology. Fonterra Brands in Wagga Wagga are using a $152,881 investment to reduce emissions by 89 per cent—very significant for them.

As Senator Milne so rightly said, the Renewable Energy Target scheme has been successful and has supported hundreds of thousands of households and businesses to install rooftop solar and solar hot water systems and heat pumps. We have 350 renewable energy power stations accredited under the RET scheme since 2001, and that number is growing every day. So people are moving. The shift is on and we need to really understand the opportunities that lie with that as well. Wind power has grown strongly, to over 2,000 MW capacity by 2011. Some of the clean energy technologies that we see have been dramatically reducing in cost as economies of scale and investment in innovation have delivered cost savings to energy users.

Now the government has legislated to comprehensively favour clean energy with a policy framework that puts a price on carbon, that does support the Renewable Energy Target, that does support the Clean Energy Finance Corporation with $10 billion of finance over five years to overcome barriers to investing in renewable energy, low-emissions technologies and energy efficiency. We have got the $3.2 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency supporting stable research and development, a really critical important part of the process. It is complemented by the $200 million Clean Technology Innovation Program. We are starting to hear of great outcomes both from the Carbon Farming Initiative and the $1 billion Clean Technology Investment Program for the manufacturing industry. Some things are actually happening. You cannot deny that the move is on and you certainly cannot think that you might turn the clock back. Passage of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation legislation in June was critically important. It fills a gap which has been clearly identified between the research and development effort and the deployment of market ready technologies.

So we anticipate as a government that the carbon price and the RET legislation together can generate around $20 billion of renewable energy investment between now and 2020. That will help deliver the large-scale renewable electricity projects that Senator Milne has been talking about. It will also help Australia to avoid the mistakes of locking in higher polluting electricity generation infrastructure that is the alternative. Quite frankly, it is why a coalition government in the future cannot make any serious attempt to undo carbon pricing, regardless of their claims. There is no alternative policy that will decouple growth in the economy from the growth of carbon pollution and there is no alternative policy to drive investment in clean energy, and certainly there is no alternative plan to transform our energy sector. These are all key parts of the whole debate.

To me the issue is about thinking about the future. Advances in solar and wind energy technology such as thinner solar film and panels, solar paints, new building materials and new wind turbines are all fascinating developments. But they are improvements to existing technologies and I want to know what the future potential energy sources might be and how Australia can pursue research and development into future energy technologies. Just like Senator Milne, last year I was in Argentina and I visited one of the largest solar arrays in the southern hemisphere. It was a demonstration project being undertaken to experiment with a range of solar technologies, in pursuit of that elusive baseload power. It was very impressive, and these kinds of efforts are being undertaken around the globe. The lesson is really clear. Denmark recently dismissed nuclear as part of their energy mix and have decided to focus on wind energy, because that is their strength. And we need to play to our strengths as well. We have an abundance of energy options, but our future energy mix has to be carefully considered, based on scientific analysis and serious public debate.

Last week I was able to visit the Australian Energy Research Institute at the University of New South Wales to meet with the Institute Director, Professor Vassilios Agilides. He spoke about the work of the centre's research on integrated renewable energy sources and energy storage systems. That institute is a sustainable energy think tank that is focusing on transforming energy research into practical applications. It builds on 30 years of energy research leadership at the University of New South Wales, which is a very proud record.

The institute aims to become an internationally recognised model of collaborative interaction between academia, industry, business and community, focusing on creating sustainable energy infrastructure and stimulating some informed intelligent debate by expanding research into economics policy analysis, regulation, engineering, sciences, social sciences, economics, markets, business and technology. To me that is what makes sense. Working across disciplines means creating a system that is larger than each of its parts and an understanding of energy-related complexities that reflect our future energy needs.

Professor Agilides actually suggested that it is new generation grid solutions that can address not just our energy needs but also use renewable resources to provide energy security. Meeting our future energy needs is going to be expensive, but at least we can choose where we want to spend our investment. Investing in technologies where Australia has significant intellectual property and expertise will provide the platform for future hybrid renewable energy generation technologies rather than importing them. I think the argument is right that Australia needs to grow a new industry with the potential to generate value in a carbon-constrained world.

4:53 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

It was with some interest that I actually read what this is about. It says: including utility scale solar plants, a task made more urgent given the World Bank predictions that we may be on the path to a four degree Celsius warmer world economy by the end of the century. I was startled by that. So I thought I had better go have a read of it. I have it. The trouble that we have got with this, of course, is that they did not say that, so I am going to read to you exactly what they did say:

This work is a product of the staff of The World Bank with external contributions. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this work do not necessarily reflect the views of The World Bank, its Board of Executive Directors or the governments they represent.

The World Bank does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this work.

So we have a whole MPI based on a fallacy, but that is not unusual. It is not unusual that they create a cluster before even starting. Everything is fear and loathing and guilt and climate policy.

I got the transcript of Tony Jones speaking to Peter Garrett. Tony Jones said as regards another report:

The most scary thing it says is the upper level of those rises in global sea levels could be as much as six metres—six metres—by the end of the century.

Peter Garrett's response was:

Look, I haven't seen that report yet, Tony, but I don't think there is any doubt about those kinds of projections …

I wonder why we don't not take these people seriously. I feel like getting a case of beer and going to the Coolum surf life saving club and just waiting for the surf to come in and never go out again. It just does not stop. There are always reports.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri has said that by 2035 all the glaciers in the Himalayas would be melted. The problem is that they are still there. Everything is going along as per normal. We have just one after the other after the other. What can we say about Tim Flannery? This guy is incredible. He has said now we need to remove the obstacles:

Although we're getting say a 20 percent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that's translating to a 60 percent decrease in the run-off into dams and rivers. That's because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and our river systems.

Dr Flannery said that the storages in South-East Queensland would never fill again. Since he said that that I went and checked the other day at Bundaberg and down to the Gold Coast. The storages are full, there is no doubt about it. They have been full ever since he said it. Why? It was another thing just to terrify the kids. And on and on and on it goes.

They want to go to renewables. Some actually were going to wind farms. So then I went and had a look at the co-founder of Greenpeace, Dr Patrick Moore. He said that the wind farm industry is a destroyer of wealth and negative to the economy. He said:

I'm happy for the farmers who are receiving the royalties for allowing the wind towers to be built on their farms …. They deserve it, but the cost to the consumers will continue to climb—partly because of the rate increases and partly due to tax increases… They are ridiculously expensive and don't work half the time … No matter how many are built, they won't not replace coal, gas or hydro or nuclear plants, because they are continuous and wind is not always reliable.

What is this insane lemming-like desire to go to renewables going to do to our economy? We have a few problems. I am looking forward to the campaign where we say wherever you put in a Labor, Green or Independent candidate, there you will get wind farms. They always ran the scare campaign with us about nuclear power plants. That was a myth but this is the truth. You get wind farms in your backyard. This is the party of wind farms. There is a wind farm coming next to you because people just love wind farms. They cannot wait for the Labor Party and the Greens to be putting wind farms in every corner of the world.

They want renewables. Why don't they talk about hydro? No, they do not like dams. Dams are evil, wind farms are good. What about solar? Just lately we had a Dr Roger Pielke who said that for us to get even our five per cent target we would need 30,000 solar farms equivalent to one that they were going to build at Cloncurry. These things are just not going to happen. So, where else do they go? You could go to nuclear but they hate nuclear. That is another thing they hate. They cannot have that, even though there are zero emissions. Where do we go? Where do these people lead us? If we let them go we will not have a manufacturing industry in this nation. We will not have an economy in this nation. Christine Milne has said that she wants us to go to 100 per cent renewables—100 per cent. This is absolute lunacy but this is the policy of the government. It goes hand in glove with the carbon tax.

I do not know: I had an examination of the climate over Christmas because the carbon tax is in now. Everything should be better. But the climate is around about where we left it. We had a few problems over at the lake. I thought the carbon tax would have fixed that, so what is the purpose of us all being ripped off by this basically gross encumbrance on the cost of living of every Australian family? What has happened? Isn't it all supposed to be better now, because you have your carbon tax? Isn't it all supposed to be wondrous? Of course not, because there is no way on earth that this is going to have any effect on the climate. It is most definitely having an effect on the standard of living of people. It is most definitely making people poorer and driving our manufacturing industry out of business but it is doing nothing for our economy. (Time expired)

5:01 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When it comes to energy conservation I believe we would do well to take a leaf out of the book of the John Muir Trust. The trust is the UK's leading wild land conservation charity and believes in conservation before generation. I believe we need to explore all ways in which we can use the energy we have more efficiently before expending more energy and taking up more land in schemes to produce energy. I agree with John Muir when he said 'not blind opposition to progress but opposition to blind progress'.

We need to be looking far and wide for renewable energy sources that work. Australia simply cannot afford to push ahead with one form of energy while ignoring equally good or better alternatives. Across the country we have traditional energy sources such as coal, gas and hydro. We also have more recent alternative and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

In my home state of Victoria there is a lot of interest in geothermal energy. Western Victoria and the Latrobe Valley show great promise, but without government and business investment this potentially abundant power source will go undeveloped. I believe all alternatives and energy solutions should be thoroughly and adequately researched under Australian conditions before a single plot of soil is turned.

In addition to these alternative sources, we should look at ways we can improve on the energy we already have. The John Muir Trust believes that the most efficient energy is that which is never produced—that is, energy that did not have to be produced because it was not required due to energy conservation or energy efficiency measures. Dotted across Victoria are roofs with solar hot water heaters and photovoltaic systems. This is something we should all be glad to see and should encourage. But it is not unusual to see these units facing the wrong way, facing south-east, thereby severely diminishing their productive output. Renewable energy certificates have been exchanged on these systems at the full rate of capacity, yet that capacity has been totally undermined by incorrect installation and lack of compliance at a state level. Further education for installers and consumers of these products would be a simple way to conserve the energy we have.

Another way would be to give Australians access to the most energy efficient products available. The E3 website—a Commonwealth government guide to energy efficient appliances—lists the freezer Elcold on its recommended lists. However, this freezer is not available in Australia. Allowing this freezer and freezer technology to be sold, or even better, manufactured in Australia would be a simple way of conserving the energy we have, promoting jobs—green jobs—and would no doubt foster a greater appreciation of energy efficient technologies.

In fact, there is a lot we can do to promote the manufacturing of energy efficient products in this country and many companies would welcome some promotion and support. Ceramic Fuel Cells is one of these companies. Ceramic fuel cells are the most energy efficient co-generation system on the planet, producing electricity and heat. This technology was developed in Australia and manufactured in Australia and the company operates out of Australia. However, the company cannot get Australian support on a feed-in tariff and has recently refocused its activities to Europe where its excellence in the field of energy conservation is fully appreciated. I believe we need to foster an environment in this country where these companies are not forced overseas to thrive.

5:05 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I come to this matter of public importance debate on this rare occasion when a party has submitted a genuine question of importance. Too many of these debates are mere attempts at partisan time wasting, but this matter—the urgency of climate change and the need for renewable energy—is both genuine and pressing.

In 2007, we all recall Lord Nicholas Stern published the widely publicised Stern Review, which noted a 75 per cent chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average. That report was indeed a watershed. Here was an economist making an economic prediction that the benefits of early action on climate change far outweigh the costs and that mitigation and adaptation later down the track would be far more expensive than early action. Revisiting his predictions recently, Lord Stern made the admonition that:

Looking back, I underestimated these risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.

Meanwhile, this matter of public importance refers to the World Bank, which has warned that a four-degree temperature rise will have dangerous consequences for the world. Jim Yong Kim, the new President of the World Bank, warned that there would be water and food fights everywhere as he pledged to put climate change on top of the agenda for his term.

In light of all of that and the issue of this matter of public importance, that is why the government is acting so strongly on climate change and why it has been at the forefront of the Gillard Labor government's agenda. That is why renewable energy is so vital to that. The carbon price is about encouraging renewable energy. The carbon price is, in fact, a key pillar in driving investment in renewable energy. It is through the carbon price that renewable energy suppliers and consumers will have a clear market advantage. They can produce energy more cheaply, relative to carbon-intensive power supplies, and can be selling at the market rate, which creates strong profits and opportunities for reinvestment.

That is also why the government has created the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The objective of that corporation is to overcome the capital market barriers that hinder the financing, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-emissions technologies. The CEFC will invest in firms and projects utilising these technologies, as well as manufacturing businesses that focus on producing the inputs required. So it not only will invest in carbon capture and storage technologies but also has that long-term potential for new jobs in the manufacturing sector and in the renewable energy sector. It is intended to be commercially oriented and to make a positive return on its investment; it is not intended to compete directly with the private sector in the provision of financing to the clean energy sector. Instead, it is intended that the CEFC will act as a catalyst that is currently not available to private investment for clean energy technologies, and thereby contribute to cleaner energy and reducing carbon emissions. Capital that is returned from investments will be retained for reinvestment by the CEFC, with the board to determine the quantum of any dividends payable to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

That leads me to the next body of the investment and the forward-thinking visionary approach that this government has taken to the issue of renewable energy, and that is in the creation of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA. ARENA is an independent statutory body tasked with the objectives of improving the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increasing the supply of renewable energy in Australia—another really important factor. Coming from a state that has a strong base of renewable energy in this country, I simply cannot believe that Senator Joyce talks down renewable energy investment. Part of Tasmania's image is this image of it being a clean, green state, having clean air, pristine wilderness and environment—and one of the most fantastic things about our state is our clean water. All of those things come back to the fact that we are a state built on a renewable energy base. He talks, then, about wind farms and goes on with this diatribe about wind farms being unsightly and something that the people do not want and all of that. Well, I can tell you that in Tasmania we are about to build our second major wind farm in the north-east of the state—Musselroe Wind Farm—which will complement the one in the north-west of the state, which is known as Woolnorth. This will provide an incredible percentage of renewable energy for our state in the wake of the times when our hydro dams are not full enough and we have to import dirty coal power from Victoria on the mainland through Basslink. We will be able to rely more, as a state, on our renewable energy base through the creation of Musselroe and Woolnorth. That is a very good thing for Tasmania and would be a very good thing to see replicated and is, I know, being replicated across the rest of the nation to build our renewable energy stocks through the support that has been created in the legislation that we have provided, the creation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the creation of ARENA.

How can he then come in here and see that as a bad thing? Just because it happens to be a wind turbine, just because the actual apparatus of the thing that is creating that renewable energy is something Senator Joyce simply does not seem to like, he seems to think he can bring the rest of the nation with him in his unaesthetic vision of a wind farm. It is simply ridiculous. I actually encourage Senator Joyce to come to Tasmania, have a look at our wind farms, have a look at Woolnorth and have a look at some of the individuals who have decided to actually put a wind turbine in their backyard—people like Mr Nichols, who owns Nichols Farm and is very well known in Tasmania for his good Nichols chickens. I can see senators from Tasmania there agreeing with me, perhaps, on Nichols chickens—we probably all share the fact that we eat them and enjoy them. But we all know that they come from Nichols Farm. Mr Nichols has a wind turbine in his backyard and he is very much a supporter of renewable energy and the fact that he is creating his own energy for his business in doing so. I am simply astounded by Senator Joyce's view that talking down renewable energy, in the sense of his dislike for wind farms, is somehow a good thing for this nation—it just really baffles me.

We have invested, as I have already outlined, in a huge way when it comes to ensuring that this country has a good, strong renewable energy base for the future. Another area where we have done that is the Clean Technology Innovation Program—that is a $2 million program and it is a competitive, merits-based grants program. One of the companies that have recently been awarded a grant from that program is a company in Tasmania called Saturn South. Saturn South's employees work all around the country and are regularly collaborating and conferencing over the National Broadband Network on their actual product. They received $115,000 last year in support of a new project to help families and businesses save energy and reduce power costs. The Saturn South hardware is a device that can plug into the switchboard of a home or a business, and once installed the device acts as a power meter and switch, turning off discretionary loads—such as hot water systems—to control the level of demand for power. This technology is actually part of Hydro Tasmania's King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project— (Time expired)

5:14 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, can I firstly, as an aside, indicate that it will be a pleasure next time I manage to make it to the Apple Isle to have you, Senator Bushby, Senator Singh or somebody else lead us in the wonderful delights of Nichols chickens, which Senator Singh has just waxed lyrical about. But this is a serious matter of public importance that it is being discussed by the Senate today. It is important that we talk about good policies to encourage the uptake of renewable energy, good policies to reduce emissions in Australia, good policies that may facilitate the use of larger solar plants, as against bad policies. In the end there are policies that work and policies that do not work towards effecting appropriate change in the Australian economy and making sure that we meet our obligations as a country when it comes to reducing emissions.

The coalition has a good record of encouraging progress when it comes to the uptake of renewable energy. It should never be forgotten that it was the coalition government that introduced the first mandatory renewable energy target in Australia. It was a coalition government that set that target down to provide the incentive and encouragement for emerging technologies to be taken up and developed as part of our energy mix. That is why the coalition stands so committed today to maintaining our support for the renewable energy target now at the 20 per cent level while, equally, we have expressed our concerns along the way about whether that target is achieving the right type of incentivation for different technologies rather than just providing a great big incentive for the advancement of wind. There is a place for wind but it is important that we make sure that this key policy mechanism encourages technologies that can provide the type of secure baseload power that Australia needs as well at a renewable level into the future.

We support good policies on this side of the chamber that can deliver for Australia's growth and the uptake of renewable energy. That is why we oppose the carbon tax. The carbon tax is a policy that simply sees Australia's emissions continue to increase. They will increase from the baseline of 560 million tonnes to some 637 million tonnes, a significant increase in emissions even with the carbon tax in place. Dig deeper and look at some of the analysis that has been undertaken as to which of the two major policies in this area will effect the greatest change in our energy mix between now and 2020—the carbon tax or the renewable energy target—and you will find that overwhelmingly in that timeframe the renewable energy target is more likely to be driving change in terms of energy mix. Why? Because it is mandating change in terms of energy mix. It sets down exactly the level of megawatt hours that are required to be delivered by renewable energies between now and 2020. The carbon tax just taxes things and hopes that the market will respond, and in many ways it would have to be far, far higher than it already is to see the closing down of major coal fired power stations.

Senator Ludlam interjecting

It is happening in a handful of isolated cases, Senator Ludlam. There is still an awful lot, firstly, of coal fired power but, secondly, it does not negate the fact that much of the reason it is happening—and many of the economists will cite the fact that this is the reason it is happening—is that it is being driven by the renewable energy target rather than by the carbon tax.

The coalition support the maintenance of the renewable energy target. We want to make sure that it works effectively to deliver emissions reductions and of course renewable energy at the lowest cost as well. We have concerns with projects and oppose throwing taxpayer money at projects like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as Senator Joyce highlighted, because it is simply a case of ploughing $10 billion of borrowed taxpayers' money into projects that the private sector have already deemed too risky.

We know that a government like this one, a government that has already failed when it comes to projects like pink batts or green loans—a project that has got its incentives for solar credits so terribly, terribly wrong it has had to keep changing them or has had to cancel or has been seen to cancel various solar flagship projects—cannot possibly be trusted to choose the right investments for such a vast sum of public money. That is why we think there are better ways to make sure that we can deliver growth in renewable energy or emissions reductions through the types of policies that we have released and outlined and stand by rather than the types of risky investments or the high-tax approach that the government today undertakes.

5:20 pm

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

I rise to speak to this notion for a number of reasons, the first being the speed at which renewable energy technology is changing—the speed at which costs are coming down and the speed at which it is being deployed around the world. These are obviously issues that no doubt Senator Birmingham and slightly less than half, regrettably, of his colleagues understand. But then we have the counterproposals raised by Senator Joyce. He is simply so utterly ignorant of the reality on the ground that it is worth bringing a debate such as this into the Senate chamber.

The second reason is that, as a result of the passage of the Clean Energy Act, which has unlocked over a period of five years $10 billion in investment with which to assist the private sector close the cost-revenue gap that exists at the moment with some of the leading edge concentrating solar-thermal technologies in the world, we have this mechanism now. We have the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It is getting on its feet and preparing to open the bidding for the first tranche of funding in the second half of this year. We have the technology that is now taking root around the world in leading countries, in places like Spain, western United States, the Middle East and elsewhere, and we have the mechanism to build it. And, the third reason is that I have seen it with my own eyes. I travelled to Andalucia in Spain in December, and visited, firstly, the Abengoa complex, west of the city of Seville, and Torresol's Gemasolar plant, about 100 kilometres to the east. These are two examples of large-scale, utility scale, solar energy plants that work around the clock. 24/7, rain, hail or shine. It can do this with or without sunlight. The second plant that we visited can hold thermal energy storage for up to 15 hours. On a cloudy day, or on a run of consecutive cloudy days, they can run that plant without much sunlight for hours and hours. That is how you get better than baseload dispatchable energy from a solar plant that runs on no fuel other than sunlight itself.

I think that many people, when they consider solar energy, think of rooftop solar panels. That is fine. We have seen huge falls in the cost of that technology as economies of scale kick in, particularly with the research and development leadership that Australia has shown over previous years, coupled with the massive manufacturing capacity of China. This has led to huge falls in the cost of PV. For example, in Perth—the latest figures I have from last September—218 megawatts of peak electricity was generated from the rooftops of the residents of Perth. It is interesting to note that the largest renewable energy instillation in Western Australia is actually the city of metropolitan Perth. Because costs have fallen so fast—with halting policy assistance from both federal and state that comes and goes; rebates that get slashed and reintroduced, different schemes that come and go and even so people have done the right thing—we are now seeing large-scale deployment of solar energy in Western Australia and right around the world. So, PV is a big deal.

But, what we want to raise today—and the reason the motion is worded as it is—is that there are major changes occurring in concentrating solar thermal technology which does not use photovoltaics, it does not require the rare earth minerals, it does not require advanced electronics or miniaturisation or particularly advanced manufacturing technologies. These are fields of glass, a kilometre or more across, that reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving tower which heats some kind of thermal storage mechanism—whether it be water, or hot oil, or molten salt, as was the case in some of the plants that we visited, and other technologies, including one that is proposed to get up and running in Western Australia using the solid thermal storage medium of graphite—and that thermal energy can be stored and dispatched later. That is how you get better than baseload solar plants that can run around the clock. It changes absolutely everything. It certainly should change—although I suspect he would be one of the last people on the planet to get the message—the determined, unhinged, pig ignorance of people like Senator Barnaby Joyce and the display he put on for us just now. That a senior policymaker in 2013 can still hold and express views like that is dangerous. And, it is a leadership example set by his leader, Tony Abbott, and premiers like Premier Barnett in Western Australia which is dangerous. Crossing the road with a blindfold on is dangerous. We cannot allow people like these to hold leadership positions in Australia while the ship heads towards the rocks. We have the technology, we have the institutional set-up and now we have the funding mechanism to make plants like this a reality in Australia, largely in part because of the leadership shown by Senator Milne, by Adam Bandt and by our former leader, Senator Bob Brown, in bringing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into being. We are not simply taxing the several hundred largest polluters in the country, but we are using a large fraction of that revenue to build the platform to replace the polluting infrastructure. This technology is good because it gives you the thermal storage, it is responsive to demand, unlike coal and nuclear power plants, it is relatively simple to build and it can happen on a large scale, on a utility scale. That is what has been missing from this debate up until now.

There is a whole range of other technologies taking their place like wave and geothermal. Senator Madigan had some useful points to make on energy efficiency. That is the keystone here: reducing demand and our profligate use of energy so that these generating technologies can take their place. Where would we build plants like this? This is something I plan on spending a lot of time working on this year, because the West Australian goldfields have been shown in study after study to be one of the best places in the world, one of the best solar resources in the world. There is space for plants such as this. There is not merely community acceptance but community advocacy. I want to congratulate the leadership that the city of Kalgoorlie Boulder and its mayor Ron Yuryevich have shown for as long as I have known him in trying to get this infrastructure built in the goldfields and out at Kalgoorlie. We have the manufacturing capability, the fabrication capability out there, and we have the best solar resource in the world out there. I am quite determined to help support the goldfields in taking that leadership position that industry, business, civil society groups like the Goldfields Renewable Energy Lobby and the local government authority itself are trying to show out there.

Some of the most interested participants and stakeholders in this debate are the mining industry who are sick of having to cop rising gas costs on a grid that is now at capacity. That is where this debate gets very interesting, because the cost of technologies such as this are falling rapidly, and are predicted to fall even more rapidly if the current rates of deployment are maintained. Forty per cent annual increases in deployment of concentrating solar thermal technology around the world, and the number of large-scale plants under construction in Australia at the moment is zero. We are at risk of falling behind. Some of the best research in the world on plants like this has been undertaken in Australia in places like the University of New South Wales, and then they go overseas and build these plants elsewhere. This is because of the kind of views that we heard Senator Joyce express.

He has done us a favour. It is not often that people would have the courage in this place to come in and be so brazenly ignorant as to just put it all out on the table with, perhaps, deliberate misrepresentation of the science. I would almost prefer it be deliberate than be the actual views that Senator Joyce holds. But he is not alone. He is more honest than others, like his leader, Mr Tony Abbott and like Premier Barnett in Western Australia. They pay lip service to climate change issues and to the reality of the disaster that we are ploughing towards if we continue on our present course. They pay lip service to it and they pretend to care. At least Senator Joyce is honest enough to come in here and admit that he could not give a damn about climate change, and that he just thinks that it is rubbish. That is actually less dangerous than the kind of views professed by Mr Abbott who is holding to a five per cent target and has no intention of doing anything of the sort. He is utterly dumbfounded if you put to him the question of, what about the other 95 per cent? How on earth do these people propose to de-carbonise the economy? The fact is, they do not have any such intentions. Western Australia—my home state—is heading for a doubling of greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 to 15 years. It is the same in Queensland and New South Wales. Massive increases in coal exports, ramp up industrial capacity, put in as many mines as you can, exporting LNG, exporting coal all over the world and the party is just about over. We now have the tools that we need to change course, and we need to change course very, very quickly. If you look at the statistics—not what the Greens are saying but what the global investment community is saying—investment in nuclear technology has gone backwards. The nuclear industry has gone into its terminal decline. You do not have to take that from me. Investment in fossil fuel power stations is flatlining and will be declining, and investment in renewable energy is surging. It is time Australia took the leadership position that it so clearly can.

5:30 pm

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of importance. Stop the presses! Senator Ludlam has announced that Australia has enough room for solar plants. We do have a lot of room; we have a lot of room in Western Australia and we have a lot of room in South Australia. You have addressed that we have the manufacturing capability for all of these solar plants that we are going to proliferate in Central Australia. We have a lot of room. Senator Joyce got bagged out incessantly in that last speech. I quote Senator Singh: she mentioned your diatribe. There was not a lot of fact in Senator Ludlam's diatribe, which was just a bash-up session for his intimidation of your prowess at articulating this argument.

Stop the press! We have the manufacturing capacity to build solar plants. Great! We have the technology—I suppose we do, thanks for that. What the senator failed to mention was the cost, and the comparative cost.

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

I did mention that. You came in late. I will send you the Hansard.

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, you are not interested. The Greens are not interested in the cost of renewable energy because they will never be in power. They have this dislocated sense of power now with the little coalition they have had over the last three years with the Gillard Labor government. They are asserting that because we have the manufacturing, the technology and the space to do it we should all have it. Fairies live in the bottom of the garden, Senator Ludlam, obviously! Father Christmas!

For all those who are listening, who just got into the car to drive home, or who are listening to this online—breaking news! Senator Milne said in her earlier assessment that the UK has come out in support of renewable energy. Good lord! Breaking News! We are all in favour of renewable energy. We are in favour of targets that we would like to meet as a nation by the year 2020. Senator Ludlam is acutely aware of the commitment of most Australians to renewable energy. Unfortunately, what we cannot have are systems and government policies which prejudice Australians on the road to a sensible and balanced renewable energy plan.

Poor old Tasmania came in for a mention from Senator Singh. I love hearing stories about enterprise. I love hearing stories about the ways people enhance their enterprise, and renewable energy is part of that. Nichols Poultry has reached some prominence here today, and I am sure they have a wonderful product, but they must, in their aspiration and in everything they do, want to be sustainable like most farmers. Senator Singh talked about the aesthetics of wind farms. Not everybody is opposed to wind farms and the aesthetics of them. Senator Madigan has his views. We are not opposed to them, but it is a simplistic argument to run. What we have to do is say, 'How much does it cost?' I am sure that in all of Nichols Poultry's packaging they leverage their renewable commitment to energy.

He have made a commercial decision to brand the product as a clean, green, renewable one. It is imperative for him. He has made that decision—he either could not access power efficiently or he has made a decision to brand his product. That is his choice, but it does not mean all of industry in Australia can afford renewable energy at the levels which you propose. Unfortunately, you did not provide an economic argument.

I look at all of these things, and of course your answer is the carbon tax—you and your coalition partners. Well, the carbon tax is not renewable energy. We support the 20 per cent renewable energy target, despite your protests otherwise. The representations that you continually make do not bear any relationship to the coalition's plan, which we will take— (Time expired)

Photo of Trish CrossinTrish Crossin (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for discussion on this MPI has expired.