Queensland state energy minister Dr Anthony Lytham says Australia’s states and territories all agree that the future of Australia lies in renewable energy, and he can’t understand why the federal government is the only one that doesn’t accept it.
In an interview with RenewEconomy’s popular Energy Insiders podcast, Lynham – who steps down after next month’s state election after deciding not to recentest his seat so he can return to his medical career – says that on the question of energy there is rare unity across all states and political parties.
“Every minister in all states, if you’re a Liberal, Labor or Greens, they all identify that our future is renewable energy,” Lynham tells the Energy Insiders podcast.
“There’s no doubt the only body that doesn’t identify with that is the federal government. I don’t think you would see more unison between political parties and states than being together on renewable energy. But you’re right, the federal government just simply doesn’t get it. I don’t know why they don’t get it.”
Lynham is particularly critical of the new efforts by the federal government’s energy minister Angus Taylor to push the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into backing gas-fired generation, and of the government’s backing of a feasibility study into a new coal fired generator in the north of the state.
“We have an excess of energy in northern Queensland,” Lynham says. “Northern Queensland now exports energy to southern Queensland. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put any type of power station in far north Queensland because there’s already an excess of energy.
“We’re pressing ahead in Queensland because renewable energy is the future. We have 50 per cent mandate by 2030. But I know that for every renewable energy plant (that we install), the cost of power for Queensland families comes down.”
The Queensland government and its state-owned utilities have been busy in recent weeks and months with major contracts that will lead to the construction of some of the biggest wind and solar projects in the country.
The newly formed CleanCo has signed two major contracts, one with Neoen that will see the biggest solar farm (400MW) in the country built in the Western Downs, and one with Acciona and BHP that will see a 1GW wind farm at McIntyre, with one 100MW component supplying power to BHP to help deliver half of the electricity needs of its metallurgical coal mines in the state with renewables
The two biggest coal generation companies have also signed significant renewable energy contracts, with CS Energy contracting a new 162MW Columboola solar farm, and Stanwell signing a PPA for 450MW of output from Goldwind’s massive Clarkes Creek wind farm.
Queensland is also the leader in the uptake of rooftop solar, with nearly 3GW of solar PV on the rooftops of homes and businesses across the state, and Lynham says household batteries are being installed at a rate of 300 a month.
He is also interested in the possibility of more micro-grids, where remote towns might supply their own renewables and storage and so cut the costly network links that are subsidised by the government, and in the creation of new renewable energy zones.
The government last week put a call of expressions of interest in new wind, solar and storage projects as it starts to put together its plans to create new renewable energy zones. A report from the state owned transmission company PowerLink last week suggested that the cost of these new zones would be a relatively minor part of the cost of new generation.
Lynham also voiced strong support for the Copperstring project that would link Mt Isa with Townsville, unlock many renewable energy resources and be able to deliver cheap power to as yet undeveloped copper and nickel projects.
And renewable energy prices continue to fall. Last week, Neoen signed a 20-year contract with the ACT government for the first 100MW stage of the massive Goyder South renewable energy hub in South Australia. That price equated to a 2020 price of around $35/MWh, and it is thought that the Western Downs solar price is in the same ballpark.
Lynham said Queensland had an advantage over other states because it owned most of the network and generation assets.
“You want to take the public along with you on this journey. And that’s why we I think we’re the envy of other states because we own our assets and that enables us to have this steady transition through to 2030 and beyond 2030z.
Lynham insists that coal will have a future in Queensland, mostly because most of its mines are metallurgical coal used for steel-making. The one big exception of course, is the controversial Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin. And coal jobs are likely to be a major talking point in the upcoming election.
“Don’t get me started. Look, this is the thing in regional Queensland. Regional Queensland needs jobs. And I can see the passion in regional Queensland about Adani.
“When you drive around Queensland, you look at Adani and you see jobs. But when you drive in Queensland, you also look at wind turbines, you look at that solar farm, you also see jobs.
“That’s 25 jobs into a regional community. That’s 25 families, potentially into another small regional community that keeps the school bus going, keeps school going, keeps a supermarket operating and people in regional Queensland.
“They know that and they tell me that. And they want renewable energy in their community. So I can see why people wanted Adani for jobs. But in the future, I can see why people will want renewable energy even more because it brings jobs right around regional Queensland.”