Albanese Government getting on with modernising Australia’s energy system

Published on Wed 26 October 2022 11:24pm

We absolutely should be a renewable energy superpower. If we achieve that potential, which, frankly, is what the Australian community has every right to expect, then we will have secured a whole range of benefits: cheaper energy, less pollution, lower and lower carbon emissions and greater energy security and resilience at a time when we can see other countries suffering from a lack of that kind of independence and resilience.

Mr Wilson (11:24am) – I’m glad to speak in support of the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. The Albanese Labor government is getting on with the task of modernising Australia’s energy system. That’s the long and short of it. This bill is an instalment in that process; it makes an important contribution to that process. It’s a task that has been utterly neglected for the past 10 years. It’s a task that’s been utterly neglected over the course of a decade when the world has been making a profound shift with respect to the generation, distribution and use of energy. It’s a shift that will define the 21st-century, and for the last 10 years Australia, thanks to the previous government, has essentially been asleep at the wheel. We’re not going to allow that to continue. We are taking on the long-neglected task of modernising Australia’s energy system.

We are blessed in this country with incredible natural resources. That’s been part of our history. We are also blessed with fantastic human capital, with incredibly talented scientists and engineers, and we’re blessed with a community that’s always been an early adopter of new technology. I don’t think there’s any question that the Australian community over time has actually embraced positive change and embraced a range of technological developments that have been necessary and beneficial. This is the latest one, and it’s the most critical for our economy and for our social and environmental wellbeing.

For all of those reasons, we absolutely should be a renewable energy superpower. If we achieve that potential, which, frankly, is what the Australian community has every right to expect, then we will have secured a whole range of benefits: cheaper energy, less pollution, lower and lower carbon emissions and greater energy security and resilience at a time when we can see other countries suffering from a lack of that kind of independence and resilience. We see that currently in Europe as a result of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and the associated consequences of that action and its response. We will see a new range of renewable energy exports, which will be of enormous benefit to Australia, and a new range of business activity in manufacturing, technology, development, offshore installation and maintenance and all the jobs that are involved in those activities.

This Labor government is squarely focused on doing all the things that are necessary to modernise our energy system. We need to significantly increase the proportion of renewable energy in the mix and we need to do that through a diversity of generation. That’s what this bill goes to, because it’s frankly quite bizarre that we do not presently generate one watt of offshore wind power. I’ll come back to how bizarre that is on a comparable basis shortly. We need a diversity of generation as well as an increase of generation. We obviously need investment in associated distribution and storage. I know, Deputy Speaker, that those are things that you’ve been engaged with. I remember the work of the energy and environment committee in the last parliament looked at some of your contributions to the question of how Australia pursues a low-carbon future, particularly in its approach to energy generation, other kinds of industrial developments and the way that we measure the emissions associated with that.

All of those things have been neglected. All of those things are now being taken on. They can’t be changed with a snap of the fingers, but they can’t be left just to gather dust in the corner, either, which has been the case. We saw the Prime Minister just the other day down in Tasmania talking about the Marinus Link. That’s a distribution project that will allow what Tasmania has to offer as a storage state. It will really be one of the batteries of the nation—probably the most significant battery of the nation in the short term—in addition to projects like Snowy Hydro. We need to have the benefit of that. We need to make sure that the whole nation is connected so that renewable energy generation created in one part of Australia can supplement the needs in the other parts of Australia, and it is the same with storage.

As I suggested before, Australians could be forgiven for wondering why there hasn’t been a single offshore wind project located at the hem of our island continent. There are probably people who assume that perhaps the reason for that is that our wind resources aren’t up to scratch, that the reason we’ve done well in solar and had projects in onshore wind but not offshore wind is perhaps because our offshore conditions just aren’t suited to that, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have wind resources that are comparable to the wind resources in the North Sea off the United Kingdom. Of course, the United Kingdom has the greatest amount of installed offshore wind capacity of any nation. I think the UK gets 21 per cent of all its power from wind power, and 10 per cent of that is from offshore wind. That’s the kind of potential that Australia could look at. I think the report by the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre identified Australia’s wind potential as being in excess of 2,000 gigawatts. We haven’t yet tapped a single watt of that, which is strange.

If you look at what we could achieve and take where we’re currently at, you see that about 29 per cent of our generation currently is renewable. I think nine per cent of that is wind presently. That’s all onshore wind, not offshore wind. As I said, look at Denmark, where 50 per cent of their renewable energy is from wind. In the UK, it’s 21 per cent, with 10 per cent being offshore. South Australia has shown the value of wind in that, at various times, 40 per cent of its energy generation comes from wind but, as yet, none is from offshore wind. That’s something that we can really benefit from and increase in future.

Last year, wind generation grew 14 per cent globally. In total, the additional wind generation was the largest amount of new wind power that had ever been added. To give a sense of how other countries are approaching the offshore wind opportunities: the United States has a target of achieving 30 gigawatts of installed offshore wind by 2030, and the UK, which currently is the world leader in installed offshore wind capacity, has a target of achieving 40 gigawatts by 2040. If we achieve that, we will diversify our renewable energy mix. We will bring some of the cheapest energy generation into the mix, which will lower household prices.

We’ll also create new industries and related jobs. Again, that report I mentioned, which I think was produced in the middle of last year by the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre, suggested that, at the low end, by the of this decade we’d expect to see about 4,000 additional permanent jobs in offshore wind and potentially as high as 8,000 jobs. That fits in with Labor’s overall ambition when it comes to our Powering Australia policy, which estimates that, by achieving 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030, we will create 600,000 new jobs and five out of six of those will be in rural and regional Australia. My colleague from Western Australia, the member for Forrest, will be very aware that one of the identified zones is off Bunbury in Western Australia, on the south-west coast, adjacent to her seat.

Like everyone who happens to live in an urban area, I’m very mindful of the fact that our economic development should be focused on the needs of rural and regional Australia. That’s a part of our national community that almost always gets left behind or comes to the party late. We have an opportunity, as we make this transition, to correct some of those disparities and imbalances. I think it’s remarkable, when we look at the potential in this industry, to think that five out of six new jobs potentially will be in rural and regional Australia.

On the jobs task: I could talk about the neglect of the previous government under five or six different subheadings. One of them would be about the lack of preparation for the transition we’re making with regard to Australian workers. Despite the fact that the former government made commitments through the Paris Agreement to prepare for transition, nothing was ever done. We saw a massive dropping away in training numbers generally. And we saw nothing that was aimed at preparing young Australians, and Australians in a range of industries undergoing change, for that change through training and job transition. That’s in stark contrast to what our partners have done elsewhere—other comparable countries.

The American Jobs Plan that the Biden administration issued had six separate initiatives directed at clean energy, electrification, zero carbon manufacturing and those kinds of things. The UK Green Jobs Taskforce was squarely focused at that piece. I’ll quote from that because I think it’s really well put in the Green Jobs Taskforce report from the UK. It said:

As we look ahead to publishing our comprehensive Net Zero Strategy and hosting COP26 in the autumn, we must focus on how we invest in the UK’s most important asset—our workforce—so that people have the right skills to deliver the net zero transition and thrive in the jobs it will create. We must ensure that green jobs are good quality, that they can be accessed by people of all backgrounds and in all parts of the country, and that workers in sectors and industries undergoing change can reapply their skills and expertise towards this new challenge.

That’s exactly what we should be doing in this country.

I note that the World Economic Forum has looked at that transition question and identified the top 10 skill sets required in the net zero carbon economy. Of those top 10 only three are industry specific. So there’s a lot of potential to allow people in existing industries to transfer into these new jobs. But government has to actually take on the challenge and be an active part in working with communities, working with unions and ensuring that the educational and training infrastructure or architecture is there to enable that transition to occur.

The reality is there’s going to be work in areas like asset and project management, engineering and technical skills, mechanical and electrical engineering, control instrumentation, blade and turbine technologies, marine biology, geophysics, hydrology, oceanography—all of these different areas are going to be involved in the offshore wind industry and other related parts of the new energy transition. We should be preparing young Australians and workers in affected industries to take the benefit of it. Labor is doing that. That’s why we went to the election with the new energy apprenticeship program, and that was delivered on in last night’s budget. The new energy apprenticeship program itself—$95.6 million over nine years from 2022-23 to support 10,000 people to complete new energy apprenticeships—is exactly what we need to enable people to be part of this exciting change, with all the benefits it will bring.

Separate to that, there’s a new energy skills program, $10 million over five years from this financial year, to support Australia’s workforce to transition to a clean energy economy. That is just one of the many things that we have been, sadly, lacking over the last 10 years.

This bill is an instalment in that great neglected project of modernising Australia’s energy system. It is bizarre and inexplicable that a country like Australia, with the best wind resources going around, including offshore wind resources, has not yet tapped a single watt of that potential. We’ve shown what our community, what our tech sector and what our energy businesses can achieve in areas like household solar, large-scale onshore solar and all of these other things. Yet, offshore wind somehow remained a strange and inexplicable blank within the palette of energy options. This bill is an important step towards correcting that.

We know we have some 12 projects that are under consideration that will begin to address what has been an aching gap in our portfolio of energy generation options. We’re doing all the things that are related to the transition, particularly in relation to the workforce aspects of it, because it’s not only about more energy and diverse energy generation, more energy resilience and security, lower air pollution as well as lower carbon emissions, it’s also about new jobs, new exports, new opportunities for young people and people in industries that are going through change, particularly in rural and regional Australia.

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