The Morrison government will fast track the approval process for the Marinus Link undersea cable linking Tasmania and Victoria, as part of the first stage of its “JobMaker” infrastructure plan, potentially unlocking a series of large new wind and storage projects in the island state.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the plans at a CEDA organised event in Canberra and it represents a rare move from the federal government to implement a stimulus measure that may actually aid the clean energy sector, even if it is part of a broader package that focuses on roads, rail and mines.
The Marinus Link proposal will see a second undersea interconnector built between Tasmania and the mainland to substantially increase the amount of power that can be generated from Tasmania’s ample hydroelectricity and wind power resources, and used to meet electricity demand in Australia’s eastern states.
“Today I announce a priority list of 15 major projects that are on the fast-track for approval under a bilateral model between the Commonwealth, states and territories,” Morrison told a CEDA event in Canberra. “Joint assessment teams will work on accelerating these projects worth more than $72 billion in public and private investment. Projects that will support over 66,000 direct and indirect jobs.”
“Under our new approach this investment, and most importantly, these jobs will be brought to market earlier by targeting a 50 per cent reduction in Commonwealth assessment and approval times for major projects, from an average of 3.5 years to 21 months.”
This list of ’15 major projects’ includes the Marinus Link project, which will provide a second undersea network interconnection between Tasmania and Victoria in what is known as the “Battery of the Nation” project.
The project will add up to 1,500MW of capacity to transfer power between Tasmania and the mainland (depending on the number of links), and has been recognised as a high priority project under the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan.
The project is being developed by the Tasmanian Government owned TasNetworks, and will benefits from the accelerated assessment process, which will see the length of time required for the project to undertake the regulatory approval process cut by almost two years.
While the expedited assessment process will help the project come online earlier, it does appear to come at the expense of the environmental approvals process, including under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which the Morrison government has looked to curtail.
The Marinus Link is key to the ‘Battery of the Nation’ proposal, which would see an expansion of Tasmania’s pumped hydro energy storage capacity used to provide a substantial boost to the energy storage capabilities of Australia’s main electricity grid.
The business case for the project prepared by TasNetworks estimated that at least 750MW of new hydroelectric generation capacity and at least 2,000MW of new wind projects could be built in Tasmania over the next 15 years following the completion of the Marinus Link. It’s expected that a substantial amount of additional wind and solar projects could also be unlocked on the Victorian side of the connection.
This new capacity would come online at a critical time, as a significant amount of coal-fired generation capacity is expected to reach retirement age over this period.
The announcement was welcomed by the Clean Energy Council, which pointed to a feasibility study undertaken by TasNetworks, which said the project would deliver a direct economic boost to the Tasmanian and Victorian economies in the order of $2.9 billion, as well as a further $5.7 billion worth of investment in additional renewable energy projects in both states.
“Marinus Link will allow Tasmania to export its considerable pumped hydro and wind energy resources to the National Electricity Market (NEM), and open up further investment opportunities in renewables in the process,” Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said.
“The Clean Energy Council is pleased to see the government prioritising this critical infrastructure project and accelerate A Clean Recovery.”
“Australia is transitioning to a more flexible, low cost and clean energy system. Renewable energy development goes hand in hand with investment in transmission and energy storage. These are long-term projects that will provide steady, secure and value-adding employment in Australia,” Thornton added.
Responding to Morrison’s announcement in a follow-up address to the CEDA event, federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese said that there were an even greater number of opportunities available in Australia to lead an economic recovery from Covid-19 impacts through investments in clean energy industries if only the Morrison government would embrace them.
“We’ll continue to put forward ideas, including the opportunities that are there on energy policy for clean energy, which go to the first vision statement I did with CEDA in Perth last year on the future of work,” Albanese said.
“There’s always opportunities. Why is it that Australia produces everything that goes into a battery and everything that goes into a solar panel, but we aren’t making them here?”
The Clean Energy Council has advocated for the clean energy sector to be included in the economic response to Covid-19, with the sector demonstrating a high potential to generate new investment and a large number of high skill jobs through the development of new energy infrastructure.
“There are hundreds of large-scale wind and solar projects that have been identified with planning approval and are well placed to proceed quickly,” Thornton added.
“By accelerating approvals, $50 billion of investment could be added to our economy, while more than 30,000 MW of capacity and more than 50,000 new jobs in constructing these projects, along with many more indirect jobs, would cement Australia’s position as a clean energy superpower.”
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