Just days after Western Australia’s energy minster predicted solar PV would soon displace coal as the state’s major source of daytime electricity generation, the Queensland government has confirmed a similar departure from a reliance on coal power, with the promise to do everything in its power to support the development of solar and wind projects in the state.
Speaking at a budget estimates hearing on Friday, Queensland energy minister Mark Bailey said his government was determined to grow both the small and large-scale renewable energy sectors, and jobs along with them, using investment and new policy measures, including reverse auctions like those used, to great success, by the ACT government.
“The (Palaszczuk) government supports absolutely establishing a Queensland-based large-scale renewable energy industry,” Bailey told the hearing.
“We are working with renewable energy agencies to deliver a reverse auction for at least 40MW of renewable energy,” he said, adding that regional, government-owned Queensland utility, Ergon, had made an expression of interest for 150MW of state-based renewables capacity.
“The benefit of this,” Bailey noted, “is not only a transformation to clean energy but also the establishment of the skill base, a workforce, investment and, importantly, jobs in Queensland. We have to grow jobs in Queensland in the emerging industries, and certainly renewable energy is one of the big emerging industries, and we are keen to be part of that.”
The Queensland government’s focus on renewables as an economic growth industry contrasts with that of the federal government, which has continually warned that higher renewables targets and stronger action on climate change would amount to a drain on economies, jobs and consumer hip pockets.
Last week, however, Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt gently reminded his federal counterparts that his state’s economic future did not rely only on the development of the Adani-owned Carmichael coal mine, and that the growth sectors of the future for Queensland lay beyond the mining of fossil fuels.
“I am a strong advocate for the development of the Galilee,” Pitt said. “And I am going to do everything I can to accelerate that to ensure we can get the benefit of the jobs. But it is not the be-all and end-all.”
Meanwhile, as an example of the economic and generation potential of renewables, Bailey pointed to South Australia, which is now sourcing 40 per cent of its power from renewable energy sources.
“They have attracted $5.5 billion worth of investment. That has created a lot of jobs and yet here in Queensland we have gone backwards for the last three years,” he said.
Bailey also noted that industrial battery technology was being rolled out by Ergon to cut network costs, and the government was partnering with Californian company Sunverge to trial domestic batteries in regional Queensland.
“This is part of the whole agenda about governments being serious about acting on climate change and not just talking the talk, which we see, unfortunately, at a federal level,” Bailey said.
“We have to be active in terms of our policy and making sure we are actually moving away from carbon-emitting industries into clean energy industries.”
The state has also committed to a small-scale target of one million solar rooftops by 2020, with Bailey noting the “great opportunities” provided by the continually improving economics of battery technology.
He has also pointed to the potential of the state’s commercial and industrial rooftop solar markets, which he said lagged behind New South Wales.
“The demand for solar is very resilient and it is a maturing market. For us it is about facilitation, it is about getting blockages out of the way in terms of the industry.
“That is the way forward. The market is driving a fair bit of it. We are happy to work with the renewable industry sector and build positive relationships there which we have been doing over the last seven months,” Bailey said.
“Now that the RET has finally landed and there is some certainty, albeit a fairly low target which is unfortunate, it at least has given the industry certainty in which to go out there and get projects going; a very good situation for Queensland to be in.”