The Queensland government has unveiled a $1 billion Covid-19 recovery stimulus package, a full half of which is being dedicated to fast-tracking the creation of three new renewable energy zones in the state.
The new $500 million Renewable Energy Fund was announced on Monday by the Labor Palaszczuk government, alongside another $500 million dedicated to bolstering small- to medium-sized businesses in the state.
Queensland treasurer Cameron Dick said the $500 million set aside for REZ development would allow state-owned energy corporations to increase public ownership of both commercial renewable projects and supporting infrastructure.
These corporations will no doubt include CleanCo, the publicly-owned outfit created under the state government’s Powering Queensland plan to own, operate, and grow a portfolio of zero-emissions electricity generation assets to help Queensland reach its 50 per cent renewables by 2030 target.
But the energy department confirmed on Monday that the $500 million would be open to all government-owned energy companies, which in Queensland includes distribution network service providers Powerlink and Energex, retailer Ergon Energy, generator CS Energy, and energy services company Yurika.
“When the private sector takes a hit, government must step up and, if it means more jobs for Queenslanders, we make no apologies for borrowing more and investing directly,” Dick said on Monday.
“By putting our money on the table, we can get more projects through the vital investment decision phase, to get construction underway as soon as possible,” he said.
State energy minister Anthony Lynham said the renewables fund would continue the pace of Queensland’s clean energy “revolution,” which had so far seen 41 large-scale renewable energy projects commence operations, under construction or financially committed since 2015.
“The fund will complement our $145 million commitment to establish three renewable energy zones to foster jobs and growth in regional Queensland,” Lynham said.
News of the $500 million fund was welcomed by industry and green groups, with the Clean Energy Council on Monday calling it a “big shot in the arm” for renewable energy investment in the state.
”We welcome the very clear recognition by the Queensland government that the renewable energy sector can play a big role in jumpstarting economic activity and jobs across the state following the impacts of Covid-19,” said CEC chief Kane Thornton.
Thornton noted – as have others – that renewable energy development in Australia’s Sunshine State has slowed since the start of 2019, with just three large-scale projects financially committed in the 18 months between January 2019 and June 2020, compares to eight projects during the 2018 calendar year and 19 projects in the 2017 calendar year.
“We have a big build ahead of us to reach [the state’s] 2030 clean energy target, and it makes sense that we bring investment forward in the next few years to stimulate much-needed economic activity,” he said.
“Queensland has some of the best renewable energy resources in Australia and stand-out potential to become a clean energy powerhouse. We welcome the Palaszczuk government’s commitment to placing ‘a clean recovery’ at the centre of its strategy for economic recovery.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the new money for renewables was “exactly the kind of investment” the state needed – economically and environmentally – and called for bipartisan support from the state opposition, ahead of the upcoming October 31 election.
“With today’s fund and the recent announcement of $145 million for the development of Renewable Energy Zones, the Palaszczuk government is beginning to show the ambition needed to make Queensland a leader in renewable energy,” said ACF campaigner Jason Lyddieth on Monday.
“ACF calls on the LNP to support this initiative and announce its climate and energy policies well before the 31 October state poll,” Lyddieth said.
“Burning coal and gas is the number one driver of climate change. To protect our natural treasures like the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and our way of life, we need a plan to transition to clean energy and support communities, workers and their families into new opportunities and the industries of the future.”
How the funds might be divided between new renewable generation capacity and network-based supporting infrastructure is not yet clear, although RenewEconomy is seeking a response from the government on whether there is a set amount carved out for each category.
The establishment of three new renewable energy ‘corridors’ was announced in August as part of a $145 million investment in new transmission infrastructure to unlock new wind and solar investment in the state.
State premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said at the time the investment would support the deployment of new transmission infrastructure across North Queensland, Central Queensland and South West Queensland to support the development of REZs across the three regions, and would enable Powerlink and CleanCo to invest in new projects.
CleanCo has recently invested in the development of Neoen Australia’s 400MW solar farm in Queensland’s Western Downs, through a deal to buy 320MW of the output of the Western Downs Green Power Hub. And in March, it signed a deal with Spanish renewable energy giant Acciona to build a 100MW wind farm at the 1.026GW MacIntyre project near Warwick, and contract another 400MW of capacity from Acciona.
State-owned generator CS Energy – which owns the Kogan Creek and Callide coal fired generators – last month signed a long-term power purchase agreement to buy all of the output of the 162MW Columboola solar farm, located near Miles in the Western Downs region.
It has also signed an off-take deal to take surplus energy from the newly completed 64MW Warwick solar farm, owned by the University of Queensland, and has an off take agreement with the Kennedy Energy Park, which has been stalled by connection problems.
Queensland’s largest electricity generator, Stanwell Corp, has also just recently got into the renewable energy offtake game with a deal to buy most of the output of the first stage of Lacour Energy’s massive Clarke Creek renewable energy project – a 450MW wind farm.