Greens propose 30 renewable energy zones, backed by grid fund

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Greens propose to create up to 30 special renewable energy zones across Australia, backed by a $2.8 billon grid transformation fund to help drive towards 100% renewables.

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The Australian Greens are proposing to create up to 30 special renewable energy zones across Australia, backed by a $2.8 billon grid transformation fund to help drive the transition towards 100 per cent renewables.

The plan, outlined by energy and climate spokesperson Adam Bandt as the All Energy conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, would see renewable energy zones located across the country – from the Pilbara in the north west of Western Australia to the best wind and solar resource areas on the east coast.

“Australia’s grid is still largely a set of wires out to coal mines. Government now needs to build the grid out to where the sun shines and the wind blows,” Bandt said in his prepared speech.

“Renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity. With the right policy, Australia can become a renewable energy superpower,” also noting the potential for significant exports of renewables, either through carrying technologies such as hydrogen or direct links to Asia.

The Greens policy builds on the draft Integrated System Plan presented by the Australian Energy Market Operator, where most of the REZs are identified.

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However, the Greens fear that that current institutional arrangements may be inadequate to drive the energy transition at the scale and speed required. They aim for 100 per cent renewables, whereas the ISP envisages a share of 46 per cent (business as usual) by 2030 or more than 60 per cent if Labor’s policies are put into action.

“The Greens’ approach is focused on the public interest, so the network operator advises on how to build a grid to get us to 100% renewables,” Bandt said.

“The government assesses the proposal with a view to supporting coal-fired power station areas through the transition, and we then build the grid for the lowest possible cost as a public good, enabling new public and private renewables generation to come online.”

“I am worried that the potential of REZs and AEMO’s ‘Integrated System Plan’ will be squandered unless federal government grabs the issue by the scruff of the neck and starts building the network in the public interest.”

The proposal is the latest in a series of public interventions proposed by The Greens, including the creation of a public not-for-profit owned by the government and regulation of prices.

The Greens are not the only ones proposing intervention. The federal Coalition government recently took full ownership of Snowy Hydro, with the view to pushing ahead with the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme, at a cost of more than $6 billion plus, and it threatens to force the sale of coal generators that might otherwise be closed.

However, the Greens want to go further and say they have little faith in the AEMC, the market rule maker.

“If the future of REZs is determined by existing players like the AEMC, past experience suggests we won’t see the action we need at the scale demanded in the timeframe required,” Bandt says.

“The AEMC’s recent options paper is still stuck in the mindset of running the grid for profit, leaving the door option for network service providers to decide how to augment the grid.”

“This ‘applicant-driven’ approach has spectacularly failed to deliver a pro-renewables low-cost grid in the past and there is no reason to think it would be different this time.”

“Under the Greens’ proposal, designating of Renewable Energy Zones will provide renewable energy companies and public authorities with sufficient incentive to construct new generation in the REZ, as they will essentially have a guaranteed connection to the grid.

“And up until this point, the only policies that have been in place to encourage Renewable Energy Zones haven’t worked.

“We need to rewrite the rules and move away from this crazy applicant-driven process.

“The Greens are the only Federal party with a policy to construct and deliver renewable energy zones across the country, which will deliver a surge in new renewable energy construction.”

Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.

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