Australia’s longest and shortest-serving energy ministers have moved to soothe investor fears about governments taking control of clean power assets and community concerns about the changing landscape.
Market intervention can be good for business and communities, Victoria’s long-serving minister Lily D’Ambrosio told energy leaders and financiers at an energy summit on Wednesday.
“It’s not about crowding out the private sector, it’s about accelerating the move towards renewable energy,” she said in Sydney.
But regional communities are worried about the 10,000km of transmission lines that need to built across farms and bushland in the next decade or so, and damage to already pot-holed roads from the transport of thousands of wind turbines.
“There’s a lot of concern of course across communities – NSW, Victoria and I’m sure it will grow in Queensland,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“Keeping the lights on is always a good motivator for all of us, so is cheaper prices, and we know that renewable energy is the cheapest form of new build electricity you can do,” she said.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull warned governments to fix clumsy approval processes and quickly hand out permits to developers.
“We’ve got to actually cut through all of that red tape and get these things built,” he told the Clean Energy Council event.
Clearly, the change in federal government was “hugely beneficial” for climate policy, Mr Turnbull said.
He said the “crazy, science-denying, climate-denying element” still existed in the coalition and right-wing media.
“In some ways it’s getting crazier,” he said.
“But I think the physical reality of climate change, global warming, is one that’s increasingly hard to deny.”
Victoria’s state-owned electricity commission and NSW’s new energy corporation have been formed to accelerate the work.
NSW is also delaying a decision on giving a taxpayer handout to Origin Energy to keep the country’s biggest coal plant, Eraring, running beyond its planned closure in 2025 to power the state.
Victoria has a target of 95 per cent renewable energy by 2035, propelled by – potentially – being Australia’s first mover in offshore wind.
D’Ambrosio said there is a need to focus on “right now” technologies, particularly projects that would not get over the line without a financial boost.
Importantly, all profit on investments made on behalf of the state will go into getting more projects off the ground, she said.
“But I do want to make it really clear to the private sector – there’s lots to be done and the fact is there’s plenty of opportunities.”
Effectively, the target will mean no more coal generation in Victoria by 2035 and the other five per cent will be gas. That means building a whopping 20 gigawatts of new generation and energy storage.
Similarly, NSW’s new corporation would “fill the gaps that the market is just not providing for, with the sole purpose of accelerating projects that will benefit all of us,” Energy Minister Penny Sharpe said.
Former climate negotiator Karen Gould, from Palisade Investment Partners, warned climate policy could change direction.
“We really can’t take for granted the political momentum we now have, particularly given the short-sighted position of the federal opposition,” Ms Gould said.
“It’s felt like a bit of a golden age for climate policy since the last election, but it did feel a similar way 15 years ago.”
And despite Australia having world-leading levels of rooftop solar, the technology remains critical to electrifying homes and workplaces and slashing greenhouse gas emissions.
ACT Energy Minister Shane Rattenbury said rooftop solar “is the best thing you can do with your money”.
And the role of government is to help those who can’t afford $1000 power bills get access to safe, clean energy, he said.
(Australian Associated Press)