Clean energy politics, engineering and economics on show in NSW

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Next week’s NSW Smart Energy Summit comes at an exciting time for energy politics, as state energy minister Don Harwin and opposition spokesman Adam Searle outline their visions for renewables.

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The New South Wales Smart Energy Summit on 4 December will be an historic event.

With the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, talking about Politics, engineering and economics: Opportunities for a clean energy transition, the stage is set for a fair dinkum discussion of Australia’s clean energy transition. We all know the engineering and economics is the easy bit, compared to the politics.

But there is a sense that the politics may just be changing.

The massive election win by Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Labor Party was a huge endorsement of strong renewable energy and climate action policies. The Victorian government has been on the front foot from the get go, firstly committing to 40% renewables by 2025, then 50% by 2030.

It has committed to half-price solar power for 650,000 homes and it has already committed to almost one gigawatt of renewables through a reverse auction. The Victorian election was also a clear rejection of a Liberal Party, which pledged to abolish the Victorian Renewable Energy Target and had no real plan to cut greenhouse emissions.

It’s simple – Victorians, and Australians more generally, want to see real action on climate change. They want to see strong support from governments for renewable energy.

The Victorian election has also been a trigger for some introspection from the Liberal Party, with the former Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop, calling for a bipartisan energy policy and Victorian Federal MP Tim Wilson stating that “If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there, that people deep-down really hate renewables and they’re hugging something like coal, I say again: ‘get real’.”

Wilson’s comments are significant because he has been a long-standing and influential critic of the Renewable Energy Target, Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA.

With the Victorian election over and just four months until the NSW election, the renewable energy industry is now hoping to see strong policy commitments from political parties in that State.

The NSW Energy Minister, Don Harwin, and the Opposition Energy spokesman, Adam Searle, are both speaking at the NSW Smart Energy Summit, and this will be the perfect opportunity for them to outline their visions for renewable energy in NSW.

The NSW Government should seize this opportunity. Whilst it has announced a series of good policy commitments, including the Smart Energy for Homes and Businesses Program, the Energy Switch Program and the Transmission Infrastructure Strategy, it has not committed to a strong renewable energy target and there is a real sense that NSW is underachieving when it comes to renewable energy.

The NSW Opposition has not yet outlined a clear agenda for renewable energy. It should look south and west and embrace the strong renewable energy policies of the Victorian, ACT, and South Australian Governments.

Perhaps we’ll see some announcements on Tuesday from Don Harwin and Adam Searle.

Of course, the NSW Smart Energy Summit is as much about engineering and economics, as it is about politics.

That’s why there’ll be a conga line of great renewable energy stories at the Summit – the Commonwealth Bank going 100% renewables, Fluence Energy’s Ballarat Energy Storage System, Alpha ESS setting up manufacturing facilities in South Australia, the establishment of a Business Renewables Centre and so much more.

As Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has said, “Australia could be a renewable energy super power. We’ve just got to have vision and insight to go after that.”

The opportunity is there for New South Wales to help make Australia a renewable energy super power. The engineering works. The economics works. Perhaps, the politics will catch up.

You can register for the NSW Smart Energy Summit at https://www.smartenergy.org.au/nswsummit

John Grimes is chief executive of the Smart Energy Council

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