A new report by the Climate Council has highlighted how Labor governments in South Australia and the ACT have encouraged and accelerated the rollout of renewable energy, while Coalition governments elsewhere have done little, or have hindered the industry in recent years.
The findings should come as no surprise to those with an interest in the industry, and reflect the trend in federal policy areas, where the Coalition government brought the large-scale industry to an effective halt after three record years of investment under Labor.
But it serves as a timely reminder in the middle of an election campaign about the relative pretensions of Conservative and Labor parties on what could still emerge as an important campaign issue.
The Climate Council ranked South Australia and ACT as the best performing states and territories: South Australia will likely source 50 per cent of its electricity needs from wind and solar alone later this year, while the ACT intends to source 100 per cent of its needs from renewable energy by 2020.
In New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, however, fossil fuels such as coal and gas still account for 90 per cent or more of the power supply, and little has changed in recent years.
NSW gets the lowest ranking. The Climate Council says its incumbent Coalition government has overseen the lowest (and falling) percentage of renewable electricity, low large-scale renewable capacity per person, no renewable energy target and low levels of rooftop solar.
This is despite the Baird government declaring that it wanted to make NSW “Australia’s answer to California.” Instead of doing that, NSW has dropped to the lowest share of renewable energy among all states.
Queensland and Victoria have been ruled by Coalition governments for much of the past five years, and also rank poorly, but the report says that at least these states – now run by Labor governments – have signalled their intent to increase their share of renewable energy through targets and policy.
Queensland, for instance, has a 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2030 – the same as federal Labor – while Victoria is also putting together its strategy to lift renewables and shift from brown coal.
Of the other states, Western Australia – also controlled by conservative parties – is showing signs of renewed interest and will unveil its renewable energy strategy later this year. But its energy minister Mike Nahan has talked of an energy future dominated by solar and storage, and has ordered the shut down of 380MW of excess fossil fuel capacity.
Tasmania is also run by a conservative government, and has the highest level of renewable energy at an average 95 per cent, but this is largely due to its enormous and long-standing hydro resources.
The Tasmanian state government was recently criticised for its failure to encourage more wind and solar development, particularly as the drought left the dams dry and the loss of the cable to the mainland forced the state to turn back to gas-fired generation and install costly and dirty diesel power.
So what does a successful government do?
The Climate Council highlights the initiatives in South Australia, which recently became the first mainland state to close its last coal-fired power station. On Sunday, more than 100% of demand was supplied by wind energy for nearly half the day, as a sign of things to come.
South Australia officially has a target to reach 50 per cent renewable electricity by 2025 and “zero net emissions” by 2050 – but that 50 per cent target is likely to be exceeded this year, particularly after the closure of the Northern coal-fired power station.
It has 1,505MW of large-scale renewable energy capacity installed (almost all of it wind energy, which is the highest total capacity and capacity per capita of all the states and territories. It also has 194,927 solar PV systems installed, or 28.8 per cent of households with solar PV – second highest proportion after Queensland.
It also notes that the government has decided to tender 100 per cent of its own electricity use from “low carbon” technologies, as its current electricity contracts expire.
And it has supported the rollout of battery storage, seeking tenders to provide battery storage to high profile buildings along North Terrace including the Museum, the State Library and the Art Gallery. The project complements the City of Adelaide’s Sustainable City Incentives Scheme.
The ACT is the leader, however. Its reverse auction tender have provided the single biggest incentive for the construction of large scale renewables in the last three years, and it is now rolling out the biggest incentive scheme for battery storage in the country.