John Hewson and Alan Kohler share a despair of the Coalition’s long-standing failure to address climate change
PV, Wind and Storage Pipeline by State
L-R: Alex Hewitt, Christine Milne, John Dee, Ken Baldwin, Zali Steggall, Simon Holmes a Court & Tim Buckley

The path forward

The path forward

“We’ve got a climate change emergency and we need to react with urgency” were the opening lines at this year’s smart energy conference and exhibition. Never a truer or more blunt declaration. If ever there was a need to ramp up renewable energy it’s now, and change agent Simon Corbell was on hand to present three key recommendations to enable the next government to accelerate the pace of renewables. 

Setting the scene Simon Corbell outlined our biggest challenge is facing a deteriorating climate that is having an impact on our urban cities, regional communities and agricultural sector; a scenario that demands that we act with greater haste to tackle underlying causes.

That means greater penetration of renewable energy, and this year has been a record year for the scale of project developments that illustrates our ability to reach 50 per cent renewables by 2030 is looking strong and positive, Corbell said.

Rystad data shows the very significant renewable energy pipeline of 25,000-30,000 MW of projects committed across the states over 10 to 15 years is “more than enough” to reach 100 per cent renewables well before the middle of the century.

Further, AEMO’s Integrated Services Plan highlights the substantial increase of large-scale developments over the 20-year horizon.  Significant action in solar and wind power is anticipated over the next two decades in particular in the eastern states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland whose share will be very substantial.

The Clean Energy Regulator also shows strong record commitments this year with 8000 to 9000 MW committed or achieved and healthy projections to continue. 

“We expect significant growth in solar and wind over next two decades and this indicates that industry is ready to make this transition to a clean energy future. The volume and scale well and truly exceeds those needed,” Corbell said. 

But the main question is how do we move beyond 50 per cent, given the major hurdles such as challenges in the transmission capability and regulatory approvals and a range of other matters that will affect the capability of this capacity of this pipeline to be brought to realisation?

As we move to federal election, let’s look at what the alternative government is proposing, Corbell said, and see what additional measures could be accommodated.

“The ALP has announced a target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030, along with a National Energy Guarantee, a doubling of CEFC investment by $10 billion, and $5 billion for an Energy Security and Modernisation fund, along with a commitment to encourage household solar and battery storage with rebates for 100,000 households. There is also a bioenergy strategy and a commitment to a target of EVs.

“These are important steps and a strong platform to address the very challenges our industry faces to realise a 50 per cent target,” Simon Corbell said, emphasising that the new $5 billion fund established to address challenges in the transmission market and Renewable Energy Zones in the National Energy Market represent “important signals from a future government”.

But more could be done, he said, itemising three key measures (and declaring the NEG is not a solution to the growth needed in the renewable energy sector). 

Policies that are proven to work are available, first is a Reverse Auction program to be used to award off-take for large-scale developments and to align with existing state programs; and to augment finance for programs for reverse auctions to support and increase the pool of funding for developments of megawatt proportions.

Further, the CEFC could sign off and focus on additional, new generation and economic developments and benefit sharing for successful proponents with more regional communities benefitting, he said. Just 10 per cent, that is $1 billion of the CEFC’s additional $10 billion funding, could unlock 10 GW of additional projects in a practical move with a focus on additional economic developments to take us beyond 50 per cent renewables.

“This would accelerate renewable energy developments immediately,” he said.

Next, we could move toward a more sustainable transport sector by reducing emissions and sourcing 100 per cent renewable energy to power rail, with a mandate for Power Purchase Agreements for major infrastructure programs such as the series of metropolitan rail projects underway across the country.

All such large projects should have PPAs in place, this would create a significant new market when you consider all the significant rail projects underway in each state, Simon Corbell said.

“These are the three additional steps the ALP could and should take to help Australia realise the potential of renewable energy as we transition to a decarbonised society,” said the architect of the ACT’s 100 per cent renewables project that reaches fruition next year.

“We just need greater haste and urgency.”

That is something that self-described “angry business journalist” Alan Kohler agrees with. 

He breezed in to the Smart Energy conference to spell out how and why Australia has “stuffed up on energy policy and been off the rails” since 2009.

Tracing the history of climate related policies, Alan Kohler explained Australia’s Greenhouse Office established back in 1998 was a world first. 

Back then, there was a realisation of the global greenhouse challenge; climate change was acknowledged as real and there was discussion around an Emission Trading report.

“So the years 1997 to 2000 saw some action and momentum within Australia,” he said.

Kohler then pointed to the success of the Greens at the federal elections of 2004 and 2007, with their 9 per cent vote contributing to the loss of John Howard’s seat.

From that time Labor shifted its focus to the environment away from Industrial Relations and the “Coalition, in opposition, obviously opposed a shift to climate and emission related developments.”

Alan Kohler then described the August 2009 failure in getting a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme through the Senate due in part, ironically, to the Greens who said it did not go far enough.

“A permanent stain on that party in my view,” Kohler said.

Later on the carbon ‘tax’ was pulled by the Abbott-led Coalition party.

“The Liberal’s ten years of climate change denial is one of the most destructive and self-destructive in our political history,” he declared. “Now they are lost and adrift … hence the rise of independent candidates in the forthcoming election on a climate change ticket.

“The debate about emissions reduction is getting old, we need a policy that provides a credible path to meeting international commitments. 

“The cost of solar wind battery has collapsed, and can see climate change all around us – nothing will stop it.

“What I want to know is how difficult will life be for my one year old grandson who was born last year. Should I be worried?”

The finance reporter believes we need to shift the focus a bit toward dealing with the impact of global warming, saying “We need a permanent commission made up of scientific, financial and social experts to advise government and the community what will happen, what can be done, and what it will cost.” 

He listed a series of rhetorical questions:

  • What about the insurance industry and our premiums?
  • Emergency services – their funding in future?
  • Immigration policy and the hypotheticals of Bangladesh and Pacific islands – what if a million head this way in boats?
  • What about the Barrier Reef, and 
  • The collapse of coal exports – what does that mean?
  • How will the impact of global warming in Australia be funded?

“We need to know what we are in for, it is time for more leaders to accept the truth.”

“Climate change is not cost free, there will be higher prices to pay and large remediation costs – that is the leadership we should have had over the past 20 years.

“It is time for more difficult matters to be addressed, rational leaders should have advanced this – it is time to plan and save up for it,” were Alan Kohler’s parting words before he set off to hear the Coalition’s budget that, as it turned out, failed to mention climate change. 

Speaking at the Smart Energy conference Oliver Yates echoed the messages of Alan Kohler, saying “Policy and regularity leadership has been a failure of unmitigated proportion.

Australia was way off track, said the former Liberal party supporter and CEFC chief executive who is standing as an independent candidate in the Treasurer’s electorate of Kooyong.

“Emissions are rising and we ignore science and won’t achieve Paris commitment. Over the past five years the government pathway has been totally irresponsible, now major policy intervention will be required in all sectors of economy. 

“Renewables have won, they are cheaper and they will provide the future jobs and exports for the nation.” 

Smart Energy Show 2019 featured change makers and influencers. Pictured below from L to R are Alex Hewitt of CWP, Global greens ambassador Christine Milne, John Dee of Arup, Ken Baldwin of ANU, independent candidate for Warringah Zali Steggall, Simon Holmes a Court of Melbourne University and Tim Buckley of IEEFA.

Read what these and others had to say in part two of this feature in the next issue of Smart Energy.