Victoria’s Napthine government has called for non-renewable gas-fired power generation to be added to the mix of Australia’s renewable energy target, as part of its submission to the panel charged with reviewing the current target of 20 per cent renewables by 2020.
The submission by the Conservative Napthine government appears, in part, to support the RET – it notes that investors have made decisions based on a bipartisan commitment to the target, and that any changes to the scheme would need to “incorporate careful consideration around issues of sovereign risk” and the maintenance of investor confidence.
But it soon falls into line with the views of other Conservative governments – and the bulk of the incumbent power sector – by suggesting that the goal posts have shifted due to falling electricity demand, and that the target be scaled back to reflect this.
“(The RET should be) reassessed on the basis that it is driving investment in new variable generation, which may adversely affect NEM reliability during critical peak periods,” the submission says.
“Potential consideration could be given to the costs and benefits of expanding the RET scheme to include high efficiency, low emissions capacity such as open cycle gas generation that would be better suited to meeting periods of peak demand.”
But the suggestion of including gas in the target has drawn swift criticism from renewables groups and the Greens, who suggest the Premier is confused about what is and isn’t renewable energy, as well as the RET’s core purpose.
“The Premier seems confused about renewable energy,” said Friends of the Earth’s renewables spokesperson, Leigh Ewbank. “Wind energy is the cheapest new-build electricity source in Australia, and solar is getting cheaper each year.”
“Gas, on the other hand, will get more expensive over time. Australia can leap frog increasingly expensive fossil fuels by switching straight to renewables.”
“If Premier Denis Napthine has convinced himself that gas is a renewable energy source, then he is confused,” said Greg Barber, leader of the Greens in Victoria.
Adding gas to the target would mean it was no longer about renewable energy, said Barber, adding that it would amount to “a huge hit to the earth and the hip pocket.”
Victoria’s Labor Opposition said the Napthine government should be fighting to maintain the target in current form, to shore up investment in new industries help create thousands of jobs.
Friends of the Earth agrees, arguing support for gas puts renewable energy jobs in the state at risk.
“The Napthine government’s support for gas will undercut jobs in the Victorian renewable energy sector – including 700 wind energy jobs in his electorate,” said Ewbank.
Denis Napthine – whose electorate hosts around two thirds of the state’s operating wind farms and associated industry, and who has publicly declared his love for wind turbines on at least one occasion – offered some hope to the local renewables industry when he took up the reigns from Ted Baillieu. But he has so far shown no signs of repealing Victoria’s draconian wind farm siting regulations, introduced by Baillieu three years ago.
In 2011, the Victorian Liberals announced the $100 million, Energy For The Regions program (previously named the Natural Gas Extension Project under Labor), an expensive and somewhat controversial program aimed at connecting dozens of towns to the gas network.