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Renewable energy hitting the target

By Lisa Singh - posted Thursday, 7 August 2014


There are now more Australians employed in our solar industry than in our coal-fired power stations, while jobs in the Australian renewable energy sector have tripled in recent years to almost 30,000.

There are no new jobs in coal power available or even promised for Australians. Our last coal-fired power station started operating in 2007, and in fact since then a number of power stations have been shut down.

Australia’s renewable energy industry, on the other hand, has expanded rapidly since 2007. According to the Australia Institute, in 2007 the solar industry employed less than 1800 Australians.  In 2014, 4,300 solar businesses employed 13,300 people in Australia. Solar businesses alone are expected to employ another 8000 Australians in the years to 2018.

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Renewable energy investment has been a key pillar in my own state of Tasmania’s electricity market, and indeed a hallmark of our clean and green image, for a century.

In fact, Hydro Tasmania, this year celebrating its centenary, is the largest producer of renewable energy in Australia. It generates nearly half of the nation’s renewable energy through a combination of hydroelectric and wind power plants and employs over 1100 Tasmanians.

It has recently added almost 300 megawatts of wind power capacity in Woolnorth and Musselroe, and is well into the planning stage of the TasWind development – a $2billion investment in jobs and infrastructure on King Island that will generate 600mw in zero-emissions baseload power, about 5 per cent of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET). This is an amazing possibility that will bring employment and economic growth to Tasmania and zero-emissions power to the Australian mainland.

But this project will only happen if the right policy settings are in place. The RET is a Commonwealth Government scheme started by John Howard and bolstered by Labor, aimed at increasing the proportion of electricity generated in Australia from renewable sources to an additional 20 per cent by 2020, compared with 1997 levels. It currently requires that 41,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity be generated from renewable power sources by 2020. Importantly, the RET is already driving down Australia’s carbon pollution. Polling released last month showed 72% of Australians wanted to keep or expand the RET.

Since its introduction in 2001, around $18 billion has been invested in Australian renewable energy. Under the current RET, it is estimated that a further $18 billion will be invested before 2020.

This investment will create many more jobs here in Tasmania and across Australia. It will create smarter jobs, innovative jobs that would never have been dreamed of in years past. Our children will have employment opportunities that will strengthen our renewable energy industry and enhance our reputation for global leadership.

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Given our abundant renewable resources, Australia should be leading the world in renewable energy research and investment. However, the politically-motivated review of the RET, which the Government will accept in the coming weeks, directly threatens all of those opportunities for Australians.

Opportunities like the Granville Wind Farm, which will create jobs where they are desperately needed on Tasmania’s west coast. This $160 million dollar project is fully approved and ready to deliver more than 200 jobs to communities like Zeehan and Queenstown this summer, but is struggling to secure investors due to the uncertainty now clouding the future of the RET.

The RET has enjoyed bipartisan support for over a decade. At the 2013 election both Labor and the Coalition clearly committed to a mandatory target and this commitment has provided certainty for, and encouraged investment in, renewable energy capacity. That certainty and investment has vanished. In the six months to June this year, just $40 million was invested in large-scale renewable energy, such as wind farms, the lowest level since the first half of 2001.

Needless uncertainty undermines our entire renewable energy industry and leads to renewable energy investment and industry heading overseas. If we don’t grab the investment opportunities that the RET provides, not only will future job opportunities evaporate, but more current jobs will be cut as well. Recently Hydro Tasmania was forced to announce that 100 Tasmanians would lose their jobs due to investment uncertainty after the abolition of the carbon price.

The Labor Party supports the RET and will continue to do so. We understand what it can mean for Australia. We recognise and embrace its potential. The RET is providing jobs for Australians today and will provide more and better jobs for our children tomorrow.

A strong RET is right for our nation, but to support it and the jobs it creates for us requires political will and objectivity. Their absence will relegate Australia and its future to the back of the global grid.

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About the Author

Senator Lisa Singh is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water and prior to this was Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General. She was also a Minister in the Tasmanian Labor Government.

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