Queensland’s energy minister – and the architect of the state’s renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030 – has stepped down from the role amid an investigation into his use of a private email account, and its subsequent deletion.
Mark Bailey – who just last month unveiled a $1.6 billion renewables plan, including a reverse auction for up to 400MW of wind and solar and 100MW energy storage – was reportedly asked to stand down by Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk after Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission found sufficient evidence to refer the minister to the State Archivist for further investigation.
Palaszczuk – who has described Bailey’s actions as an “error in judgement” – said in a statement on Thursday that Queensland’s Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, would serve as Acting Minister for Energy, Biofuels and Water Supply in Bailey’s place.
Pitt is also hugely supportive of renewable energy and other technologies, like battery storage, that will enable the state’s grid to transition to zero emissions.
“Residential battery energy storage systems are new technology that will impact (the) network and its customers and could be a win-win for both parties,” Pitt said at the June opening of facility built by Ergon Energy to host one of Australia’s biggest residential battery storage trials.
“This kind of technology could give customers flexibility to source their power needs more cost effectively, and has the potential to remove peak loads off the network and can increase the value of renewable energy if operated to suit the needs of both parties,” Pitt said. “This is truly the start of something big.”
The CCC probe into Bailey’s email activity was sparked by a Right To Information request by The Australian newspaper, to find out whether Bailey was using a Yahoo email address to negotiate with union officials.
While the CCC did not find any evidence Bailey had done what the Murdoch paper alleged, it did find reasonable suspicion of “corrupt conduct relating to the potential destruction of public records.”
Bailey has denied all charges, but his removal – and investigation – comes at a tricky time for Palaszczuk’s Labor government, with a state poll looming, set for May at the latest.
It will also be counted as a loss to the clean energy industry, and Australia’s climate action effort, considering Bailey’s support for renewables and staunch opposition to the development of any new coal in the state.
Parts of the federal Coalition have been campaigning vigorously for the government to fund a new coal power plant in Queensland’s north, including federal resources minister Matt Canavan, who recently attracted ridicule when he responded to Queensland’s zero emissions target by tweeting: “Stop trying to save the planet.”
The Queensland LNP, meanwhile, has recently been considering a motion urging Australia to quit the Paris climate deal. And Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls has promised to set the wheels in motion for new coal-fired generation in Queensland’s north “within 100 days” of winning office.
Bailey, in return, has been critical of the federal government, describing it as “an absolute rabble” when it came to energy.
“The federal policy around the RET (renewable energy target) finishes in 2020,” Bailey told ABC’s Radio National breakfast program earlier this month. “When it comes to lead-in times for energy infrastructure, that’s a blink of an eyelid. We need to get on with this, give certainty to replace this old kit that is coming out of system.
“If the federal government is not going to get on with it, then it might be up to the states again to drive energy policy.”