Busting myth-conceptions

How will NSW shape up in the transition to renewables? State energy minister Don Harwin proudly outlined his government’s plans and programs at this week’s NSW Smart Energy Summit but dismissed proof the state was a net importer of energy, rubbished Victoria’s policies and South Australia’s advances, and admitted the NSW coalition has no renewable target. His Labor counterpart, Adam Searle presented a glimpse of what to expect should his party – which supports strong targets – gain power in 109 days. 

We’ll kick this off though with the forensic analysis of South Australia’s energy market conducted by the Climate and Energy College by charting the rise of wind power and small and large scale solar power, and the state’s subsequent reduction in reliance on gas and on imported power. The impact of changes in SA’s energy mix in the post-coal power environment is nothing but positive.

The data was presented by energy specialist Simon Holmes a Court (pictured above) and later summarised in RenewEconomy: SA now boasts cleaner power and has experienced the biggest drop in emissions in the main grid along with the biggest reduction in emissions intensity, and lower prices. (South Australia’s wholesale prices remain higher than other states as due to gas sets the price much of the time, but the difference is now less marked, and narrowing.)

Simon Holmes a Court described South Australia as “the model of success in renewable energy generation not just in Australia but around the world”.

The state is now more likely to be exporting rather than importing energy, and NSW is one of the [largest] importers.

But that’s not the way NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin sees it, and who describes SA as “a failed experiment”.

At the summit the Minister presented the state’s plans under the bid to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

At the outset he claimed his government was strong on addressing climate change, a phenomenon that is accepted by his colleagues as a scientific fact. “All governments must address greenhouse gas emissions into the future,” he stated, and the overarching aim is to give confidence and certainty into the sector to drive decarbonisation and put downward pressure on prices and emissions.

The Minister stressed “engineering and economics” dictate the state’s suite of programs which include the $55 million emerging energy project the Smart Energy for Homes and Businesses Program, the Energy Switch Program and the Transmission Infrastructure Strategy and $20 million smart batteries for building plan.

NSW has a pipeline of 17,000 MW of renewables projects or $21 billion of investment.

“The challenge is significant but it offers opportunities, jobs innovation and industry transformation,” Harwin said.  “The next generation of energy and storage projects. And it must drive downward pressure on prices.”

John Grimes of the Smart Energy Council believes “With strong renewable energy policies, New South Wales can be a global hub for commercial and industrial-scale solar and renewable energy.

“The opportunity is there for New South Wales to help make Australia a renewable energy super power,” he said. The engineering works. The economics works. Perhaps, the politics will catch up.”

However there is a glaring omission: NSW is yet to commit to a strong renewable energy target to underpin policy. And one summit goer who commented the minister talked about “great things that amount to tweaks around projects” asked “when will the NSW government announce a policy that will drive greater investment?”

The state faces the demise of most of its coal plants and is under criticism of not having Energy Plan B up and running.

But the query invoked the ire of the minister who declared “We are not prepared to have splashy expensive failures and wasteful programs like Victoria’s – we are committed to trialling programs that are scalable and we make no apologies for starting small and getting it right.”

(We need to step in here with a note on the thumping success of the reelection of Victoria’s Labor government which signals endorsement of strong renewable energy and climate action policies. In the state which is regarded the most progressive in Australia energy minister energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio gained a whopping 75 per cent of primary votes, the highest of all re-elected candidates. Under her direction Victoria has committed to 40 per cent renewables by 2025 and will lift that to 50 per cent by 2030.

Still in Victoria, half-price solar power is on the cards for 650,000 homes as is almost one GW of renewable energy through a reverse auction. For its part the state Liberal Party which suffered a humiliating defeat pledged to abolish the Victorian Renewable Energy Target and lacks a plan to rein in greenhouse emissions.)

Back to the Smart Energy Summit where NSW shadow energy minister Adam Searle declared the Daley-led party members are “true believers and strong advocates for renewable energy”.

He emphasised that the pairing of his energy portfolio with Climate Change demonstrated “a clear and powerful signal” of the importance of climate change and the link to emissions and energy.

“We believe increased renewable energy is the path to both stabilising and reducing electricity prices and controlling greenhouse gas emissions in our energy sector,” Adam Searle said.

“Our policy will be built on those three principles - improving affordability, ensuring reliability and delivering a fair and rapid transition to clean energy generation.

“Happily, the task of saving the planet and reducing people's power bills are now converging,” he said.

Adam Searle cited the Climate Council's state renewables Powering Progress scorecard that, excluding hydro, puts NSW comes third last with just 6 per cent of electricity generation powered by wind and solar.

“By holding out a theoretical hope that there may be a place for new coal-fired power, our current governments are stalling on the transition we all know is needed. I can tell you today that a Daley Labor Government will proceed on the basis there will be no new coal-fired power stations built in NSW,” he said.

“NSW Labor supports the Federal Labor target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030. I think we should be saying at least 50 per cent by 2030. If technology and economics permit, we should move further, faster.

“We also support the objectives of cutting emissions by 45 per cent on 2005 levels across the economy and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This will cut 88 million tonnes of carbon emissions from the electricity sector alone and have wholesale electricity prices around 25 per cent lower than they would be under the Turnbull Govern ment’s NEG.

“A Daley led government would also commit to ensuring the new supply is reliable by supporting building appropriate levels of storage - including batteries and pumped hydro, and is looking at reverse auctions.”

The list went on.

Adam Searle concluded by saying the NSW Labor party will release its full energy policy prior to the March state election.

The Summit also heard from John Dee of ARUP and co-founder of RE100 whose signatories which include global corporations such as Google Lego, Apple, Mars Microsoft are spurring $94 billion in renewable energy investment opportunities that will see 172 TWh by 2030.

”If RE 1000 were a country it would be the 23rd largest electricity user in the world,” John Dee declared.

And on big numbers, Simon Corbell outlined what will be Australia’s biggest proposed renewable energy project on the national grid, the 4000 MW Walcha Energy Project destined for the heart of New England in NSW.

The Walcha solar and wind energy mega project will rise in the midst of a farming community that is “hungry to see investment” in their area, said Corbell, and the project has been 14 years in discussions.

The past ACT climate change minister who was instrumental in ACT’s reverse auctions and transition to 100 per cent renewables warned we have just 20 years to decarbonise the energy sector. Two decades to turn things around.

The summit also heard from Jonathan Upson of Esco on the rise of corporate PPAs, Fluence Energy on the Ballarat Energy Storage System, Dong Lin of Alpha ESS on manufacturing facilities under development in South Australia, Amy Kean of the Energy Infrastructure and Emerging Technologies in the NSW Government, and many more.

** The Smart Energy Council would like to thank its Summit partners Growatt, Redback Technologies, Smart Energy Training Centre, Alpha-ESS and Talesun **

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