A Win for Renewable Energy in NSW

The Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill 2020 is a much needed bill and a huge step towards ensuring NSW can transition to renewable energy in the time needed to help address the climate crisis. However, Jenny Leong MP reinforced the Greens commitment to public ownership of assets and ensuring an equitable transition and noted that The Greens would support the Bill but seek to amend it.



"I note that when the Minister announced his intention to introduce the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill 2020 and it was reported in the media, there were clear sighs of palpable relief, especially from the climate scientists and the campaigners who have devoted their professional lives and, in many cases, many hours of their personal lives trying to push for solutions and actions when it comes to climate change. Perhaps this bill marks a turning point. I note that I am speaking in this debate following the member for Northern Tablelands. I think the fact that we can both be putting our support behind this bill perhaps marks a significant turning point. Perhaps this bill shows that we can finally put to bed the climate wars that have been stifling our ability to listen to science and act to rapidly transition to renewable energy.

The politicisation and polarisation of climate change has been one of the greatest political tragedies of our generation. We are thankful for the work of the Minister, who I note is in the Chamber, in seeking a way forward that can garner the political consensus and support needed to be able to drive this urgent change. We have been able to work together and listen to the science in tackling the pandemic, and we can do the same when it comes to the climate emergency that we face. People have been working on solutions to the climate crisis for decades now, and they have been feeling increasingly despairing as the years and decades have slipped by. People like Naomi, Glynis and Rosalind Vaughan from the Australian Conservation Foundation [ACF] inner west group whom I met with recently have been working tirelessly to try to get legislative reforms to make it easier for us to take up renewable energy and have climate change factored into government decision-making on planning, protection of the environment and mining approvals. I thank them for their longstanding advocacy and thank all the members of the inner west ACF group.

Across the world, momentum is building for action on climate change. China, Japan, the European Union, the United Kingdom and now the United States have recently announced targets to get to net zero emissions. This is very different from a few years ago, and includes countries with governments of all political persuasions. But a 2050 goal is far too long away, and the reality is that action is needed much sooner if we are to have any chance of success. We must begin work today. We need ambitious interim targets and we need a plan to get there. That is why The Greens welcome the policy certainty that this bill brings. We support a concrete plan to transition to renewable energy in New South Wales, and we are very pleased to see an ambitious target for the shorter term of 75 per cent renewable energy in the electricity grid by 2030.

There is such a thing as too late—and it is drawing dangerously near. In fact, many people fear we have reached some of these critical tipping points already. Events like the melting of the arctic permafrost, melting of sea ice and bushfires on the scale that we saw last summer can exponentially increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, beyond our control to reduce these emissions. That is why we need to do more to act. Transition on that scale will require work to begin immediately and not just be an aspirational target that is deferred to another government or another day. The Greens acknowledge that work has begun in this space, with big batteries announced for western Sydney and the replacement of the Liddell coal-fired power station. The batteries are a significant step forward in stabilising the grid and harnessing a huge and growing amount of solar energy in the system. Those projects will mean that we can make more efficient use of renewable energy than we already have.

The transformation of the grid to renewable energy also will mean that work can begin on building a hydrogen industry in New South Wales. Germany and the European Union [EU] already have flagged that they want to develop a supply chain to buy green hydrogen from Australia to power industrial processes such as steelmaking, heavy transport, air travel and possibly even a replacement for domestic gas heating. The production of green hydrogen presents many opportunities for job creation, most crucially in many of the regions that currently are dependent on fossil fuel industries. Regions such as the Hunter and the Illawarra already have skilled manufacturing workforces and ports from which hydrogen can become a major export. The Illawarra also has a steelworks that could run on green hydrogen instead of coal, shoring up jobs and making locally made steel competitive on the world stage in a world that increasingly will be looking to purchase zero emissions steel.

Other steelworks around the world already have started making steel with hydrogen, though not without significant government investment in the research and trial phase. That also needs to happen here in New South Wales if we want to keep those jobs and support those communities. The solution to the climate crisis must be one that leaves no worker and no community behind—I reiterate, it must be one that leaves no worker and no community behind—and deals with climate and equity together. The opportunities from building renewable energy are immense and there will be new jobs, new industries and huge economic opportunities. But while we develop these manufacturing capacities for hydrogen, this work is meaningful only if we are concurrently pumping huge amounts of renewable energy into the electricity grid because the world will not buy our hydrogen if it is made from fossil fuels. As Ross Garnaut identified, we have such an abundance of renewable energy resources, Australia can and should be an energy export superpower. This means not just going for 75 per cent renewable energy but producing many more times that for domestic purposes so that not only is Australia powered by 100 per cent renewable energy but we can export the rest.

It should be noted that The Greens will be moving to try to proactively improve this bill because it is not perfect and it does prioritise—as we would expect from a Liberal-Nationals government—private investment of renewable energy projects, which means that the significant wealth generated will go back into the hands of private companies instead of into the public purse. Why would we not want that benefit to come back to the people of New South Wales? The Greens will be moving amendments and working proactively to improve this bill because The Greens want to ensure that, where possible, renewable energy is publicly owned and that materials required to build the infrastructure are manufactured locally. The Greens are committed to prioritising public ownership, to guaranteeing local procurement and to delivering a fair return for First Nation people for all projects built on their land. The Greens want this bill to deliver a clear commitment to green hydrogen which, along with battery and pumped hydro, needs to form the backbone of energy storage in New South Wales. The Greens know that targeted early investment in green hydrogen is critical to rebuilding a local manufacturing base. As legislators, we need to ensure that investment flows from the renewable energy boom not only will deliver green power but also will deliver locally for jobs and for communities. That means inserting strong local procurement provisions into the bill.

The Greens know that every infrastructure project built after this bill is passed will be built on First Nation land. Let us be clear, it is not open, empty space. It is not terra nullius. It is country; it always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Economic empowerment for traditional owners and First Nation communities is a key priority for The Greens in negotiating amendments to the bill. The Greens look forward to a cooperative response from the Government. The urgency of the climate crisis cannot be overstated. It is an emergency and the wheels of government need to turn with speed and urgency to meet the emergency. The very survival of life depends on it, whether or not we make this transition with the necessary speed. But we have seen how fast we can act when it is truly necessary.

Prior to 2020, who would have thought that it would be possible for a New South Wales Government to finally provide a safe, secure and affordable place to live for people sleeping rough and homeless and income security—sadly, lost yesterday—from a Liberal-Nationals government during the middle of a pandemic? What we saw was that when there is a will to respond to a crisis, people can and will act. What we saw is that when we work together in a crisis, listen to the experts, keep a flexible approach and put our minds to it, it is astonishing what we can achieve. I believe that we have so much to gain by making the rapid transition to decarbonising our economy, job creation, economic growth and, above all, saving this little blue planet so that future generations can also enjoy rich and wonderful lives."

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