Australia renewables boom rolls on, but NEG shadow looms

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CEC details jaw-dropping scale of Australian renewables boom, but survey says investor confidence shaky, summed up in two words: “policy uncertainty.”

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The scale of Australia’s large-scale renewable energy construction boom has been laid bare in a jaw-dropping new chart, unveiled at the Australian Clean Energy Summit in Sydney on Tuesday.

The Clean Energy Council chart, pictured below, details the 42 large-scale solar and wind power projects currently in construction – or due to start construction, having reached financial close – around Australia.

According to the CEC, these projects will deliver more than $A9.7 billion in investment, 6239MW of new renewable energy generating capacity and create 5354 direct jobs.

Divided along technology lines, solar and wind are neck and neck, with 3302MW of wind farms in the construction pipeline, compared to 3108MW of solar farms.

On a state by state basis, Queensland is well out in front, with 18 of the 42 projects within its borders, compared to eight for South Australia, seven each for Victoria and New South Wales, and one each for WA and Tasmania.

As for project completed and commissioned this year so far, the CEC data counts 24, amounting to a total of 1366MW, worth $2.9 billion of investment.

Of course, driving all this activity is the fact that – as CEC chief Kane Thornton reminded the conference on Tuesday morning – “wind and solar is now the lowest-cost generation it is possible to build.”

But Thornton has also used the Summit to warn that continued growth in the sector is not a given, particularly with the fate of the federal government’s proposed National Energy Guarantee still undecided.

“The industry has been in a record growth phase, but those who have been around for a while have not forgotten the lean years in the middle of the decade caused by chronic political and policy uncertainty,” Thornton said.

“Renewable energy like wind and solar is now the lowest-cost generation it is possible to build, but if we get the policy and regulatory settings wrong it will hurt economic activity across the sector.”

This sort of cautious and conditional optimism for the sector was mirrored in the results of the CEC’s inaugural Clean Energy Outlook survey, which was also released at the Summit on Tuesday.

The survey, which polled 100 CEOs and senior executives across the renewable energy and storage industries, returned an average ranking of 6.9/10 on “confidence to make investments over the next three years.”

And the two biggest and most common issues affecting businesses, the survey said, were policy uncertainty and regulatory change, particularly as the federal government’s Large-scale Renewable Energy Target comes to an end.

“This year’s Australian Clean Energy Summit comes after 18 months of extraordinary economic opportunities for the industry and regional parts of the country because of the Renewable Energy Target (RET),” said Thornton.

“We are confident this prosperity will continue over the next couple of years, but it’s essential that we can return secure bipartisan support to ensure the transition to clean energy continues at the lowest possible cost to consumers.”

But whether the Turnbull government’s NEG can deliver that bi-partisanship remains to be seen – the COAG Energy Council meets next on August 10, when state energy ministers will be expected to indicate their stance on the policy, one way or another.

Both the ACT and the Victorian governments have said they would not support the policy design as it stood, and have expressed concern that the NEG might be subject to influence by the Coalition party room, in particular its gaggle of hard-right, coal supporting climate deniers.

“The Greens won’t sign up to the policy until and unless it is signed up by Coalition party room,” di Natale said at ACES on Tuesday. “That is the only way to be sure we are not signing a blind cheque.”

As Giles Parkinson reports from the Summit, this position was echoed by Victoria’s energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio, who said the state Labor government “won’t rush into supporting a policy” just to appease the “coal ideologues” in Canberra

“Malcolm Turnbull is trying to get us to sign up to something that hasn’t gone to his own party room – a place full of climate sceptics,” D’Ambrosio said.

“Every time we get close to a national energy policy, the Coalition Party Room shoots it down. How can we have any confidence in what they’re asking from us if it hasn’t been through his party room first?”

“We won’t support a scheme that leaves the states in the dark and leaves us all hostage to the extremists in Turnbull’s party room.”

For its part, the CEC has broadly supported the NEG platform, despite its reservations about emissions, and on other matters such as transparency, offsets, and questions about the impact on rooftop solar and storage.

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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15 Comments
  1. JIm 5 months ago

    By my reckoning, 10-15% of potential installed renewable energy capacity under construction is in ALP electorates plus Bob Katter’s, which leaves say 85% in National and Liberal electorates. (I’ve only looked at rural ones.) Distribution based on projects in pipeline is a similar story. Snowy 2.0 and ‘Battery of the Nation’ in Tasmania inflate the ALP proportion. Which electorates shed which projects from the pipeline, or gain new ones. only time will tell. How many local members are barracking for renewables?

    • Joe 5 months ago

      Well we’ve seen in the past that Bananabee Joyce was always keen with his shiny shovel to do ‘a first sodding’ in front of assembled media when a new RE project build got started in his electorate. But then the next day he’s back on message with ‘Coal is the future’, why does he even bother showing up with his shiny shovel in the first place.

      • JIm 5 months ago

        What’s the prospect of a coal future for New England?

        • David D 5 months ago

          IDK, the electorate goes right down to the Upper Hunter.
          But Glen Innes has Sapphire (270MW) and White Rock (175MW) wind farms @ 445MW total coming on line.
          They are in Joyce’s electorate.
          There’s another Glen Innes Wind Farm at 90MW that’s been a lot slower developing.
          And NSW’s three biggest solar farms are in another Nat Party electorate, Parkes.
          But Parkes, Manildra and Griffith solar farms are in adjacent electorates.

  2. GlennM 5 months ago

    Great news of course. Add in rooftop and at least 10Gw new RE by 2021. That will really inflict some pain on the Fossil fools and close Coalers before their expiry date.

  3. david_fta 5 months ago

    Policy uncertainty easily solved, just stop voting COALition until every one of the current membership has died of old age.

    Mind you, it’s more likely they’ll be murdered by their own grandchildren first, revenge for the climate damage they’ve bequeathed.

  4. Mike Westerman 5 months ago

    And great to see at one point today about 30% of all energy on the NEM was coming from renewables

    • Crankydaks 5 months ago

      At one point? That’s impressive.

      • Mike Westerman 5 months ago

        Rename yourself Crankydick and get it right…

        • Crankydaks 5 months ago

          And why should I change my name?, renewables more often than not supply around 5 per cent total to NEM. And with a growing population, a 40 per cent target is getting further and further away. Don’t dream, face facts.

          • GlennM 5 months ago

            You mean facts like the in 2017 the last full year renewables produced 17% of the NEM electricity and it is expected that will be 23% by 2020, and 40% by 2030 only with the current pipeline.

          • Mike Westerman 5 months ago

            Becoz it’s pretty obvious you are ignorant. The facts as published by the government are that in 2017 15% of energy was renewable and with additional plant already commissioned this year the number will be much higher in 2018.

          • Crankydaks 5 months ago

            Ok, back to my original comment. Occasionally but rarely do renewables generate their nameplate output, currently supplying about 2.3 per cent of NEM, as displayed on AEMO data dashboard. Did I say dream on? Ah, yes, that’s right, I did.

          • Mike Westerman 5 months ago

            And your point being? You assume engineers are so bereft that they don’t think of the capacity factor till some crank points it out on a blog? The average car is mobile 4% of the time so the rated horsepower is a fraud? Stick to your day job

          • Crankydaks 5 months ago

            Yes, but the car is able to deliver full output on demand. It is my day job.

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