NT backs massive solar push to reach zero emissions target

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Northern Territory backs massive investment in solar as part of goal to reach net zero emissions and create renewable export industry.

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The Northern Territory Labor government has unveiled a comprehensive and firmly science-informed plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with a focus on the territory’s massive natural advantage in solar – “the cheapest form of new electricity generation.”

The draft Climate Change Response, published on Thursday, is a landmark document for the NT – whose wealth is largely built around fossil fuel reserves – and builds on a previous Discussion Paper and outlines the Labor government’s plans to address climate risk, and create new economic and business opportunities.

In drafting the response, the government appears to have largely embraced Beyond Zero Emissions “10 Gigawatt (solar) Vision for the Northern Territory”, which in June outlined a plan to tap the Territory’s rich solar resource, and support the creation of new energy export industries, including renewable hydrogen.

In that report, BZE predicted that renewable hydrogen could generate $2 billion in export revenues by 2030, should the  NT government embrace renewables, and put in place a target for 10GW of renewable energy by 2030. It already has in place a 50 per cent renewable energy target for domestic electricity, but this would require only around 400MW of renewables over the next 10 years.

The new vision is of a different scale altogether. It comes as the state-owned Territory Generation admitted that its fossil fuel business was facing “death by solar”, and would be unable to compete with cheaper and cleaner technologies.

Sadly, it also came as the territory’s newest Senator, the National’s Sam McMahon, used her maiden speech to parliament to declare renewables as a “hoax” and a “fraud”, and urged more fracking for gas, and even nuclear energy.

In a statement on Thursday, the Northern Territory’s minister for climate, Eva Lawler, said the new draft plan aimed to facilitate renewables growth to diversify and strengthen the local economy, and enable new export industries.

Lawler said it would also build on existing initiatives across the NT – including its 50 per cent renewables target for 2030 – to cut emissions across all sectors.

This would include the development of a “Solar and Renewable Hydrogen Strategy” to continue to enable the long-term growth of the renewable energy industry, the report said.

“Low-carbon economic development is underpinned by the growth of a renewable energy industry and the Northern Territory is in the best position to capture opportunities like this,” the minister said.

“Solar is the cheapest form of new electricity generation, and the Northern Territory has one of the best solar resources in the world.”

Already, the government has backed plans to host the world’s largest solar plant, and use it to help power Singapore, giving them Major Project Status in July.

At the time, chief minister Michael Gunner said his government would begin negotiations on a Project Development Agreement with developer Sun Cable, to kickstart development of a proposed 10GW solar farm and 20-30GWh storage facility near Tennant Creek.

Gunner said the PDA would provide the framework for Sun Cable and the NT government to progress the $20 billion Australia-Singapore Power Link through the required approvals processes – starting with an Environmental Impact Statement and a Territory Benefit Plan.

But this week’s Climate Response was not all about the economic opportunity. Crucially – and in stark contrast to the current federal government – NT Labor also pledges to “proactively respond” to the impacts of climate change, which it says is already taking a toll on Territorians’ health, economy, and natural systems.

Citing last year’s IPCC Special Report on Global Warming, the paper paper notes that while the technology and expertise required to meet Paris targets are available today, substantial effort is required to strategically transition to a low-carbon economy.

And it says that the longer this sort of action is delayed, the costlier and more difficult it will be.

“Climate change threatens everything that makes the Territory lifestyle great and that is why the Territory Labor government has developed a Response for action,” said Lawler.

“Territorians support action on climate change, want more renewables and want to see our environment protected for future generations

“Responding to climate change helps us protect the things we value the most — the things we can’t put a price on — and will create economic opportunities for Territorians and Territory businesses through the creation of new industries and local jobs.”

According to BZE estimates, growing the NT’s renewable generation capacity to 10GW could stimulate the production of renewable hydrogen, representing a multi-billion dollar export opportunity, while also creating thousands of jobs.

On Twitter on Thursday, BZE’s Eytan Lenko congratulated the Gunner and Lawler for “understanding that the NT will thrive, jobs will be created and the cost of living will fall if we make best use our incredible solar resource.”

“This is a big day for the NT and hopefully the start of a new chapter in its recent history. The NT can lead the world in showing how to build a renewable-powered economy with renewable exports at its heart. Can’t wait to see it develop,” he said.

Lenko told RenewEconomy that the NT has much to gain from a future where it embraces its world-leading renewable resource, including 8,000 new jobs and the $2 billion a year economic boost.

“We are particularly pleased that NT gov will develop a Solar and Renewable Hydrogen Strategy to continue to enable the long-term growth of the renewable energy industry.

“It is also important that they have committed to embed climate change risk considerations across Government decision making. The renewable energy industry should see this a signal that the NT gov has opened its doors, (and it’s) time to go and find the opportunities there.”

However, The Australia Institute said that the new climate policy document ignores the territory’s single biggest source of emissions, and did not address the proposed fracking for oil and gas.

“The new climate paper shows no progress has been made, with official plans to sort out the offsets mess by the end of 2021, well after the industry has set itself up. Already this year the NT Government has approved fracking without offsets,” said Tom Swann in a statement.

The territory government has, however, accepted Recommendation 9.8 of the Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing, which states that the NT and Australian Government seek to ensure there is no net increase in the lifecycle emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the NT.
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