Queensland Labor has announced a significant new commitment to its renewable energy, unveiling an updated policy paper that aims for at least 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and committing new funding to the state’s first solar thermal with storage project.
The new policy push appears deliberately designed to contrast with the back-ward thinking of the LNP Coalition, which vows to scrap renewable incentives and targets, and wants to build a new coal fired power station.
Labor is also keen to counter some of its own confused messaging over the Adani project, which is putting inner Brisbane seats at risk, including that of deputy premier Jacky Trad.
But in an election that is largely unpredictable – thanks to a major redistribution, the reintroduction of compulsory preference voting the and the rise of One Nation – Labor has now decided that a double-down of its renewable energy commitments could be a vote-winner.
Queensland is the first of several Labor states to go to the polls, with South Australia due to go in March, and Victoria, with a legislated target of 40 per cent by 2025, due to face the electorate next November.
The new strategy outlined on Sunday, during a visit to the nearly-completed Clare solar farm, includes $50 million to “kick-start” the construction of a solar tower and storage facility in the state, similar to the one that South Australia has contracted near Port Augusta.
“We are committed to establishing a solar thermal baseload generator, which can power Queensland even at night,” said premier Anastasia Palaszczuk.
“We are offering a $50 million capital down payment to help make this a reality.We are offering a $50 million capital down payment to help make this a reality.”
She cited a solar thermal project proposed by CWP Renewables, near Townsville, but mentioned others had also made proposals.
SolarReserve, which is building the 150MW plant near Port Augusta, has previously cited Queensland as a major focus and said on Monday it was looking to build six such plants in Queensland over the next decade. It might have added, only if Labor wins the election.
Queensland Labor also re-committed to creating a third government-owned generation company that would compete with the fossil fuel-based incumbents – Stanwell and CS Energy – and provide another 1,000MW of renewables, with a focus on “flexible, dispatchable” generation.
This, said premier Anastasia Palaszczuk, would be on top of the 400MW of renewable energy in the tender that has currently been put on the back-burner pending the outcome of the election.
Other initiatives include a further $97 million for solar schools, comprising $40 million for 35MW of solar PV and $57 million for energy efficiency measures, and a $1 million study for renewable solutions for the Daintree, and $3.6 million to help decarbonise remote communities.
But it is the commitment to aim for at least 50 per cent by 2030, which struck most interest, and set off a new conflict over the impact on consumers.
“We are committed to our transition to at least 50 per cent renewable energy in Queensland by 2030,” Palaszczuk said in a statement.
“Our Powering Queensland’s Future Plan sets out actions to make sure we get the balance right, delivering more of the cheapest form of new generation – renewables sooner to complement our young and efficient fleet of coal and gas-fired generation.”
And she went further:
“Queensland’s abundant natural resources mean that renewable generation can power Queensland 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow,” Palaszczuk said.
“We will ensure that Queensland’s electricity generation includes the right mix of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind generation, with battery and pumped hydro storage, as well as exible, dispatchable forms of new generation like the concentrated solar thermal plant which uses molten salt storage to power Las Vegas at night.”
The government was challenged by the LNP to reveal the nature of the contracts entered into by the Labor government in the last two years – many of them providing PPAs to large scale solar farms.
The LNP said the nature of these contracts have not been revealed. And it is a fair point. Indeed, none of the contracts entered into by Queensland, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and now WA have been revealed. And this is bad for transparency, and competition.
Releasing those contracts would also help justify Labor’s claim that “renewable energy is now the cheapest and quickest way to deliver new generation, which is what we need to put downward pressure.”
The policy documents note that three large-scale solar farms have commenced operation (Barcaldine, Normanton, and Sunshine Coast), and a further 21 were committed or under construction, totalling some 1,900MW of capacity.
“Queensland now has the most large-scale renewable projects under construction of any state in Australia. More is on the way with another 8,800MW of proposed large-scale renewable energy projects at earlier stages of development – $20 billion investment which would support 15,000 jobs.”
Palaszczuk also struck a note of caution about the national Energy Guarantee, indicating that Queensland Labor would not agree to any new policy until its details have been thrashed out.
Some states such as South Australia say they could not agree to the NEG on current terms, given that it was likely to entrench the power of incumbents, was an attack on renewables and designed to protect the coal interests of the big utilities.
Queensland won’t have a vote at the COAG energy council on November 24, a day before the election, although votes in COAG tend to be done by “consensus” and could well commission the Energy Security Board to do further work.
“What we won’t do is agree to any policy until it is fully formed and fully modelled, so that we know it’s in the best interests of Queensland – particularly in relation to household bills, and regional investment,” the premier said.
The policy document was welcomed by the Clean Energy Council, which said that Queensland, having led has led the nation in rooftop solar panels for years, was now investing big in large scale projects.
and the many big wind and solar projects which are underway across the state are employing thousands of locals and generating economic opportunities in regional parts of the state,” Mr Thornton said.
“Renewable energy is now the cheapest and cleanest option for new energy generation and, when combined with energy storage, it can do everything fossil fuels can – except much more flexibly and without the pollution,” CEO Kane Thornton said in a statement.
He also said the LNP’s proposal to build a new coal plant in north Queensland “doesn’t make sense”, a view echoed by the Australian Energy Council, the Queensland government’s own research, Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott, and numerous others.
“Renewable energy with storage is now cheaper than new coal, and the reality is that any new coal plant will take at least seven years to be built if everything goes smoothly,” Thornton said.
“However, there are some good ideas in the LNP’s energy policy to streamline approvals for renewable energy projects and introduce more efficient regulation,” he said.