It is one of the great ironies of Australia’s latest renewable energy boom that the New England electorate of deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce – one of the most ardent and misinformed opponents of renewables in the current government – should be one of the country’s key renewable energy hubs.
And The Greens, the most ardent supporters of a very rapid transition to 100 per cent renewable energy (a goal that the CSIRO and the networks agree is quite attainable), delight in pointing this out.
This week, Shane Rattenbury (pictured right), the ACT minister for climate change and the only Green to hold such a portfolio, and NSW Greens energy and resources spokesman Jeremy Buckingham went to Joyce’s seat to inspect the early construction work on the new Sapphire wind farm, a 100MW facility that is being built thanks to a contract signed by the ACT as part of its program to secure wind and solar for the equivalent of 100 per cent of its electricity needs by 2020.
They took particular delight in mocking Joyce’s description of a transition to renewables as “crazy”, while at the same time playing host to some of the biggest wind and solar projects in the state. Apart from Sapphire, New England also plays host to the White Rock wind farm and the new solar farm that is being built nearby, and other projects in the pipeline.
“Misinformed fools like deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce are holding regional NSW back from a bright future providing clean energy to power Australian businesses and households,” Buckingham said in a statement.
“Renewable energy is now a big driver of jobs and growth in regional NSW. Imagine the jobs and investment that would happen if the NSW government was as ambitious on renewable energy as the ACT government.”
Rattenbury, who is also leader of the ACT Greens and now responsible for ensuring that the contracts with the 10 wind and solar farms in NSW, Victoria and South Australia are delivered, and that the state meets its 100 per cent target, says Sapphire will create 200 local jobs and generate up to $10 million in economic benefits within the local New England economy.
“It’s disappointing that the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce describes the ACT’s 100% renewable electricity target as ‘crazy’, while his electorate reaps the benefits of a clean energy future,” he said.
“The fact is, the contracts are in place, the projects are getting built and the ACT target will be met on time, at prices that aren’t exposed to the fluctuations of coal and gas.”
Indeed, the ACT may be a net beneficiary. It has locked much of its renewable energy generation at prices around $80/MWh, while wholesale prices across the nation have soared well beyond that. When the prices do jump above the fixed price negotiated by the ACT, the ACT consumers receive the difference.
“This is good news for consumers as well as climate change mitigation, as the ACT government has locked-in a set price for the renewable electricity produced by 10 wind and solar projects, including Sapphire, for the next 20 years,” Rattenbury said.
“This is a way of providing long-term certainty to ACT electricity consumers and helping insulate them from further wholesale price rises into the future.”
The ACT, with the Ararat wind farm now in full production, will be sourcing 50 per cent of its electricity needs from wind and solar. The completion of another two stages of Hornsdale, the Sapphire wind farm, the Crookwell wind farm and another solar farm will take it to 100 per cent by 2020.