The uncertainty surrounding the renewable energy sector started by the Abbott Government's politically-motivated review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) could not be felt more deeply than in my own state of Tasmania. It is from here, the birth place of clean, green energy, that Hydro Tasmania is supplying almost half of all of Australia's renewable energy needs in its centenary year.
But the importance of renewable energy extends far and wide. There are now more Australians employed in our solar industry than in our coal-fired power stations. Jobs in the Australian renewable energy sector have tripled in recent years to almost 30,000. This extraordinary growth has not happened by accident, but through effective policy introduced by the previous Labor Government under its RET schemes. 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. This is all good news for Australian jobs and investment but will be jeopardised if the Abbott Government abolishes or pares back the RET.
Renewable energy investment has been a key pillar in Tasmania's electricity market for a century. One hundred years ago in 1914 the Tasmanian Government first bought a small electricity company that had been in financial difficulty and created the Hydro-Electric Department. Within ten years, hydroelectric power was revolutionizing farms, factories, and mills followed by the major construction projects of the 1940s providing jobs and economic security for new generations of migrants.
Over the last decade or more Hydro Tasmania has entered a phase of expanding its renewable energy resources with investment in wind farms, at Woolnorth in North West Tasmania and at Musselroe in North East Tasmania. Hydro is the largest producer of renewable energy in Australia, exporting electricity to the mainland through the Basslink connector which runs from Tasmania to Victoria, and it employs over 1100 Tasmanians.
It has recently added almost 300 megawatts of wind power capacity and is well into the planning stage of the TasWind development – a $2 billion investment on King Island that will generate 600mw in zero-emissions baseload power, about 5 per cent of 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 and many others like it are in jeopardy ifthe RET is reduced, or worse, abolished. It would almost certainly terminate any further investment in large-scale renewable energy projects and put at risk the long-term viability of existing renewable energy assets.
The RET, a Commonwealth Government scheme started by John Howard and strengthened by Labor, aims to increase the proportion of electricity generated in Australia from renewable sources to provide an extra 41,000 GWh of clean energy.
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 is the investment that we need to drive Australia into the forefront of the world's renewable energy industry, matching leaders such as Germany and US states like California and even Texas. The Lone Star state, famous for its oil reserves, has undergone a quiet revolution, with around $7 billion invested in a sprawling wind power network that spans nearly 4,000 miles, ranking first in the country for wind power capacity. California's Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), one of the most ambitious in the world, was raised to require 33% energy procurement from renewable resources by 2020 under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Germany's 'Energiewende', a transformation in energy production, has set a new record of 28.5% of energy generated entirely from renewable sources.
The threat and uncertainty of Abbott winding back a once bipartisan renewable energy policy undermines our entire clean energy industry and leads to investment heading overseas. If we don't grab the investment opportunities that the RET provides, not only will future job opportunities evaporate, but 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 of the RET and after the Abbott Government destroyed Labor's climate policies.
The RET has the capacity to provide jobs for Australians today and more and better jobs for our children tomorrow. To continue the proud history of Australia's innovation in the energy sector we need a government that supports renewable energy with decent policy. To build on the Hydro's centenary of success through the generation of new sources of clean energy, and to see a future where Australia continues to push forward, we cannot afford to lose the valuable momentum that has come out of the existing target and the schemes that support it.
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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