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Urgency debate on renewable energy

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 14 May 2013

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (16:35): It is always interesting to follow Senator Birmingham on a speech about climate change. We are certainly not looking for your sympathy, Senator Birmingham. Although I know that you believe that climate change is a massive issue that we need to face up to, regrettably, Senator Birmingham, you boss does not. He thinks it is crap. That is quite a big part of the problem. The cross-party consensus is that pricing carbon and making polluting industries pay, thereby becoming more efficient and financing the next generation of energy infrastructure in this country, was the most efficient way to drive emissions reduction. It is not the only way to do it, but it is a pretty good place to get going. That consensus broke down. It broke down around the time that the defective CPRS was being debated by this parliament.

As for the government, the problem with the Labor Party is that you never know what you are going to get. It seems to depend on which faction has its hands on the steering wheel at any given time as to whether you get something like the Clean Energy Act, which is working and driving carbon emissions down in the electricity sector in Australia. That is the data. It is not coming from Greenpeace. It is coming from the people who collect energy and greenhouse gas statistics in Australia. Greenhouse gas emissions are going down, electricity use is falling and it is becoming more efficient. Also, renewable energy infrastructure is displacing coal.

That is a fact. The scheme we set up is working. It was written with the Greens-with Senator Brown, Senator Milne and the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt-with the Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation, Greg Combet, and with the House independents in the cross-party climate change committee that was proposed by Senator Milne after the last election. The outcome we got was not perfect, but it was better than nothing. It is certainly better than the defective CPRS, that was unmourned, that followed a few years before, in that it actually works. We knew that the CPRS would not. So I am very happy to give credit to the government for entering into that agreement and delivering a package that worked.

This is also, of course, the party that is trying to double fossil fuel exports, not just out of the east coast coal ports but also out of the gas industry in Western Australia. It appears that you can never really tell what you are going to get with the Labor Party. It seems to depend more on internal factional disputes as to what sort of public policy result is going to fall out, so we get the sort of outcomes like we are seeing tonight, where it is believed something in the order of $100 million will be cut out of ARENA.

These are good programs. They are programs that get renewable energy developers a leg up so that they can participate in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation process. So, you take the small scale investments, the loans, the grants and the research and development funding that ARENA provides and that gets you into the main game of building large-scale renewable plants, where the CEFC has been established, with $10 billion worth of funding, to get large-scale projects over the line. And it is working. If it is given time, if it is allowed to continue to work and does not have a wrecking ball put through it by a proposed alternative government, led by an individual who does not even believe climate change is real, we in Australia will continue the transition to a clean energy future.As Senator Milne said, on the basis of our visit to Spain last year we realised it was not the future that we were talking about; it was the present: it has been built. And a plant six times larger than the one we visited in December is under construction in Nevada at the moment, at much less cost per megawatt hour.

These are plants we should be building in Australia. What we say to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and what we say to the government is: look west, look to the goldfields of Western Australia, look to the inland Pilbara and look to the mid-west, to the east of Geraldton, where there is a whole community calling out for this, and a town-a regional city-that has developed its future plan for development based on zero-emissions electricity. Again, this is an initiative not led by the Greens-but supported, certainly, wholeheartedly by the Greens.

This is breaking out all over the place, in areas like Geraldton and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. One of the things I did when I went to work as a staffer in a state Greens office in Western Australia for 2001 was write a letter in support of the Solar Cities bid by the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, whose mayor at the time was Ron Yuryevich.

There are towns and regional centres right across Australia that are crying out for this kind of investment and this kind of technology, not just for the sorts of reasons we might expect but, in terms of the mining industry, as a hedge against rising gas prices.

We developed because Western Australia is not in the national electricity market and the Western Australian Independent Market Operator could not be compelled to do a 100 per cent renewable energy study for WA. We undertook to do it ourselves, because the state government is aggressively disinterested in understanding what kind of investment will be required to build out this sort of infrastructure in WA. So, we had consultants come in and assist us in developing scenarios for 100 per cent renewable energy for WA, and we call this Energy 2029.

I think it is tremendously important that AEMO-as Senator Milne has outlined, a pretty conservative entity, who would not necessarily be prone to flights of fancy in their models around 100 per cent renewable energy-came to the conclusion that it is doable for Australia to run on renewable energy in its entirety. That is a big ask. The south-west of Western Australia is an island grid, not connected across the Nullarbor to the NEM. In collaboration with the body Sustainable Energy Now-engineers and people who have worked in the electricity-we are taken through the fast-moving world of renewable energy: the runaway uptake of rooftop PV, the astonishing solar fields of Andalucia and Nevada, and innovations in wind, wave, geothermal and bioenergy. The largest renewable energy generator in Western Australia at the present time is the Perth metropolitan area, because of the amount of rooftop PV that has gone in in Western Australia.

These things are happening. The policies we have put in place are not perfect. They need to stay stable, they need to not be pulled apart by people who have managed to convince themselves that there is nothing here to worry about. But they are actually working, and we are now driving the transition we have been seeking. The Energy 2029 study, like the AEMO report, found that the move to 100 per cent renewable energy is possible. And, if you take fuel costs out to 2029 into account, it is not that much more expensive than business as usual, because once you have put the capital plant in you have eliminated your fuel costs. It is a completely different way of thinking about electricity generation.

A crucial thing that our report found, which I think goes against some of the hysteria that is levelled at people promoting the next generation of installation of this sort of technology, is that a renewable future in fact provides at least three times as many jobs as the current number employed in coal, oil and gas in WA. There are two or three gas power stations in WA that have no staff at all. It is not necessarily a huge employer, and that is something we need to keep in mind. Again, these are based on very conservative government figures from BREE that more than 22,000 net new jobs would be created just in WA through that transition out to the year 2029.

So this is something that the Australian Greens will be taking to the next election, and we will certainly be looking very closely at the budget when the Treasurer stands up tonight and delivers his speech. The question is whether we can take the government-because we know we cannot take the opposition-seriously on renewable energy, not just as an investment strategy for places like Western Australia, the Sunbelt, the inland Pilbara and the mid-west but because climate change is real, because time is running out and because we are forcing our climate back to a place where it has not been for at least three million years.

Whether Mr Abbott believes it or not is immaterial, because you cannot fool the atmosphere. The strategic leaks that appear to have been made to the gallery-to soften the blow, as it were-are that there will be cuts to funding in this vital area of research and development into renewable energy, which would have ensured that we do not end up simply buying this stuff from overseas countries in 10 or 20 years time, when it is too late.

We can do this here. For all the acknowledgement right across the chamber of the crisis in the Australian manufacturing sector-and what has been done to it, partly by the high value of the dollar-we have some of these things right in front of us. We have some of the best research institutions in the world and some of the best researchers, who then go overseas to do this work. We have absolutely no excuse.

Senator Birmingham stands up and says things like, 'This is all about much larger emitters than us.' This is not just a crisis; it is also an opportunity. But it is not an opportunity that will be met by cutting the vital research and development funding that Australian renewable energy developers need to do the job that we urgently need them to do.

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