A rapid-fire series of major clean energy policy announcements has supercharged Australia’s clean energy transition, writes Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton.
The developments in renewable energy in Australia during the past few months bring to mind a quote attributed to English author Fay Weldon: “Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens.”
Following a decade of inaction under a Coalition Federal Government, a flurry of clean energy commitments and announcements came in three weeks in September and October 2022 that saw Australia’s clean energy transition accelerate faster than at any other point in history.
These announcements mark a major shift in Australia’s clean energy transition, with near universal state and federal government support putting us back on the path to becoming a global clean energy superpower.
Queensland pumps up its clean energy ambitions
First off the mark, on 28 September, 2022, was the Queensland Government with the announcement of the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan, which provides $4 billion in funding to help the state achieve new renewable energy targets of 70 per cent by 2032, and 80 per cent by 2035.
The plan’s headline initiatives are the construction of the Queensland SuperGrid – a 1500km transmission construction program to allow the vast number of new wind, solar and hydro projects to connect to the grid by 2035 – and the addition of two new large-scale pumped hydro storage projects near Mackay and Borumba.
With the Mackay project slated as the world’s largest pumped hydro storage system, the projects will deliver up to 7GW of long-duration storage to Queensland to help firm the significant amount of new wind and solar capacity needed to meet the state’s new targets.
By 2035, the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan is expected to result in an eightfold increase in renewable energy capacity, generate $62 billion in investment, and create 64,000 direct jobs, while ending the state’s traditional reliance on coalfired generation and reducing emissions from the electricity sector by 90 per cent.
This is a big step for Queensland, which, despite its abundant sun and wind resources, had been lagging the other Australian states with its clean energy ambitions. The plan will go a long way towards bringing Queensland in line with the southern states and allow it to reap the significant economic benefits of coordinated climate action.
Federal support a welcome change
Three weeks after the Queensland announcement, it was the Federal Government’s turn, when it announced the first investments under its $20 billion Rewiring the Nation plan.
The biggest investment was in Marinus Link, a second electricity interconnector between Tasmania and Australia’s mainland, with 80 per cent of the $3.8 billion project to be funded via a loan scheme, and the remainder split between the Federal, Victorian and Tasmanian governments.
The greenlighting of Marinus Link is a significant development for Tasmania, allowing it to proceed with its ambitious Battery of the Nation initiative to add 2.5GW of pumped hydro storage in the state that will be used to firm variable renewable energy on the mainland. It will also bring Tasmania’s world-leading target of 200 per cent renewable energy by 2040 much closer to reality.
The Federal Government’s second commitment under Rewiring the Nation is in Victoria, where it will provide $1.5 billion in concessional financing to fast-track projects in Victoria’s renewable energy zones, and $750 million for the construction of VNI West, a new interconnector between NSW and Victoria.
All up, the Federal Government committed more than $6 billion to new energy infrastructure investments through Rewiring the Nation, and followed it up a week later in the Federal Budget by upping its total commitment to $25 billion in clean energy spending.
Of course, all of this funding is designed to help the Federal Government achieve its more ambitious climate target of 43 per cent by 2030, which relies heavily on Australia getting 82 per cent of its electricity from renewables.
While there is still a long way to go and much more to be spent, the Federal Government’s support of renewable energy is a welcome change after the previous decade under the Coalition.
Victoria goes back to the future on energy
Following the Federal Government’s extensive announcements, the Victorian Government stepped up the very next day with its set of new clean energy policies. These include setting a renewable energy target of 95 per cent by 2035 and committing $1 billion to build 4.5GW of publicly owned renewable generation by reviving the State Electricity Commission.
Accompanying these is a new emissions reduction target of 75 per cent to 80 per cent by 2035, and net-zero by 2045, making Victoria one of the world’s most ambitious jurisdictions for climate change policy.
These announcements came on the back of the Victorian Government announcing Australia’s most ambitious energy storage targets in late September 2022, with the government committing to 2.6GW of energy storage by 2030, and 6.3GW by 2035, which would be enough to power approximately half of the state’s current homes at peak energy usage.
When added to Victoria’s ongoing renewable energy auctions, extensive statewide renewable energy zones and the pursuit of new technologies such as offshore wind and hydrogen, these new policies firmly position Victoria at the forefront of Australia’s clean energy transition.
Clean energy revolution picks up speed
The fact more progress was made towards Australia’s clean energy future in three weeks compared to the previous 10 years is a sad indictment on the Coalition’s attitude to clean energy and a key reason why so many Australians are struggling with the challenge of skyrocketing energy bills.
While it would be easy to look back over the past decade with frustration and wonder just where we would be now if we had a more supportive climate and energy policy, it’s more productive to look to the future and the enormous opportunities ahead of us.
There is a mountain of work to be done and some considerable challenges to confront, but as the past few months have shown, our political leaders are finally taking the challenge seriously and enacting policies to allow us to meet our goals.
With state and federal governments embracing renewable energy, the clean energy revolution is well and truly underway. With targets set and favourable policies finally in place, it’s now up to the industry to fulfil its potential and lead Australia towards to its clean energy destiny.