The Western Australian Labor government has labelled an unexpectedly ambitious clean energy policy from the WA Liberal opposition as too costly and unrealistic, suggesting the plan reflects the inexperience of the WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup.
Western Australian energy minister, Labor’s Bill Johnston, said he was “horrified” by the WA Liberal’s surprisingly ambitious “New Energy Jobs Plan”, that would see the conservative party commit to closing government owned coal-fired power stations by 2025, and invest in 4,500MW of new wind and solar generation to power an emerging hydrogen sector.
The WA Liberals unveiled their energy platform last week, which included commitments to build new network infrastructure to support the construction of new renewable energy projects, along with a commitment to build a 500MW big battery – while supporting workers at the Muja and Collie coal fired power stations that the party said it would close.
Responding to the plan, Johnston labelled the plan as risky and too costly during an energy election debate hosted by the Australian Institute of Energy on Tuesday.
“I was quite horrified to see the Liberal Party’s announcement last week. This is too risky. It’s not a realistic plan for this state’s energy and it reflects Mr Kirkup’s inexperience,” Johnston told the debate.
“It’s simply not possible for two members of parliament and staffer to write a genuine plan for the future of energy in Western Australia. It’s too risky.”
Johnston said that he had prepared a series of costings of the WA Liberal’s energy plan, seen by RenewEconomy, which totalled $16.73 billion, and called on WA Liberal energy spokesperson, Dr David Honey, to release his own detailed costings of the policies.
Much of these costs relate to the management of the state’s energy contracts, with the plan requiring state-owned electricity retailer Synergy to re-negotiate a number of supply contracts with existing and new generators.
“I’m not saying they’re fully developed costings, what they are, is a reasonable assumption about the costs involved in that project,” Johnston said. “I invite Dr Honey to set out what the what he says are the costs. If he does not accept my costings, what cost is he attached to that to that reckless policy that shows the inexperience that’s risking Western Australia.”
The response creates the unusual situation where a chapter of the Liberal party is being accused of being too ambitious in its plans for clean energy and emissions reduction – with a Labor government seeking to position itself as the ‘sensible’ and more cautious party.
Western Australia will elect the next state government on March 13, with the incumbent Labor party expected to be safely returned for another term, thanks to the popularity of premier Mark McGowan’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The WA Liberals recently appointed 33-year-old, first term MP, Zak Kirkup to lead the party into the state election and Labor has sought to label the WA Liberal opposition as too inexperienced to run the state.
WA Liberal energy spokesperson, Dr David Honey, defended the party’s clean energy plan, saying it was important that governments show leadership in the energy transition.
“We believe that Western Australia and this is the government should be targeting zero net emissions by 2030. And that’s two decades earlier than Labor,” Honey said.
“We believe we’ll achieve this by the private sector investing $3 billion in 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy in the Midwest. We believe that the government’s coal fired power stations should be shut down and, can I say, they’re shutting themselves down because they’re not baseload, they swing and they’re up and down like a yo-yo.”
“And I know I ran boilers in my previous life, it destroys the boilers in those facilities, and their costs are enormous,” Honey added.
Johnston rejected suggestions that in light of the WA Liberal’s announcement that the Labor party lacked an ambitious plan for the energy transition, calling on the federal coalition to lift its own ambition.
“We have a very ambitious target, we have net zero by 2050 years as our target. If the Commonwealth Government wants to change the 2030 target for Australia, we would welcome that. And we would very much like to work with the federal government, if we could convince them to change their target,” Johnston said.
WA Greens energy spokesperson, Tim Clifford, said that it was important that the state’s energy policies extend beyond just the government’s own activities and government owned energy projects.
“The centrepiece of the Greens’ energy policy is a commitment to legislating a renewable energy target of 100% renewable energy by 2030 and a target of net zero emissions by the year 2035,” Clifford said.
“There are many opportunities in zero carbon transitions, and the Greens are committed to making most of them. However, in order to do so, WA must legislate renewable energy and net zero emissions target across the whole of the economy and not just government assets,” Clifford added.