Thursday, 23 March 2017
Questions without Notice
Thank you, Mr President—
A government senator: How did you get a question?
The reason I have a question is because Senator Hanson was unable to ask hers, and so this is truly without notice, and it goes to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. As a fellow senator for South Australia, we both know of the South Australian energy crisis which has delivered the most unreliable and most expensive electricity anywhere in the country. I ask the minister to please provide information in detail as to what impact the federal government's renewable energy target has contributed to the South Australian power crisis.
I thank Senator Bernardi for the question, and, Senator, I am happy to take it on notice in terms of any particulars that can be provided. As you would be well aware, of course, the coalition government acted to reduce the level of the renewable energy target around 18 months ago—a change that brought down the rate of energy that was required to be supplied by renewable sources and, in doing so, reduced some of the burden across the national market. Of course, we have only ever supported carefully targeted and calibrated targets, whereas, as you are well aware, the government in South Australia has sought to champion a 50 per cent renewable energy target, in excess of double the federal renewable energy target and far more than anything that the coalition government has ever advocated for.
They have had a particular impact as they have encouraged investment, changed planning laws and undertaken activities to ensure that as much investment as possible was put into South Australia in those areas of renewable energy, which, as we now know, has created instability in the grid, as a result of issues in relation to the frequency and inertia of energy. They are serious issues that now have to be addressed, partly through energy market reforms and partly through looking at the storage capabilities that can address that. We have sent very strong, clear warnings to the states and territories that such inconsistent approaches from the states and territories do jeopardise their local energy markets. We urge them not to pursue those types of standalone policies that could undermine the efficiency of the system.
I thank the minister. It seems to me that the South Australian government has firmly and warmly embraced the federal government's Renewable Energy Target and extended it. Does this mean that the federal government's Renewable Energy Target is responsible for about 50 per cent of South Australia's power crisis? If that is the case, what is the government proposing to do, and will it specifically freeze any further progression of the RET in the interest of providing stable and reliable electricity at a competitive price to South Australians. (Time expired)
As I explained, Senator Bernardi, and as I know you are well aware, this parliament took action around 18 months ago to change the Renewable Energy Target to a level that we thought was one that provided a degree of investment certainty without jeopardising the national stability—at least, around that target—of energy generation. It is the government's view that to change that again, 18 months after it was varied and only a couple of years until the conclusion of the 2020 target period, would actually create further problems in the energy market. It would exacerbate problems, particularly in terms of investment certainty, rather than actually help with any of those issues. I certainly do not accept that we have contributed half of the problem in South Australia. The problem in South Australia is that they sought to take on as much of the national target themselves for— (Time expired)
I thank the minister. Australia's competitive advantage has been built on having the cheapest and most reliable electricity in the world. That has been jeopardised in recent times by government policy, including the Renewable Energy Target, which the government is endorsing at 23½ per cent. Will the government commit to freezing any further funds for new renewable energy projects, which are doing such a disservice to Australian consumers and businesses, most notably in South Australia?
The Turnbull government wants to see energy that is affordable and reliable and, of course, also helps to meet our national emissions reduction commitments that we have given at a global level. Our policies are working towards that. That includes directing more of the funds within areas such as the CEFC and ARENA to support investment in storage capabilities—like the Snowy Hydro scheme and the Cultana project on the Eyre Peninsula or the western parts of South Australia, near Whyalla—and in projects that can provide stability into the grid and can make the heightened levels of renewable energy that have already been built in a state like South Australia work for us rather than against us in terms of supply into the market, the affordability factor and reliability. We will be making sure that, wherever possible, investment goes towards those principles of reliability and affordability while supporting meeting those targets, but it certainly does not undermine, as it has in the past— (Time expired)