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Energy Co-Ordination and Planning Amendment (Tasmanian Renewable Energy Target) Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Tags: Biomass, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it is galling to sit here and suffer through a lecture on taking strong action on renewable energy and reducing the devastating and accelerating pace of the climate emergency from a member of the Labor Party, the same party that is in lock-step with the federal Liberal Party. A unity ticket between the federal Liberal and Labor parties for the last decade has held Australia back. It has put us into the ignominious position of being pariahs internationally because of our galloping increase in federal funding for fossil fuel industries.

Albanese and Morrison have stood shoulder to shoulder, shamelessly embarrassing all Australians and all young people and waving a red flag for the expansion of the gas industry. That is shameful. For that member to stand in this place and point the finger at the Liberal Party without pointing it right back at his own party is disgusting. He will be held responsible by the young people of Tasmania for his words. They can read them and listen to that lecturing and hypocrisy.

What we really need to hear is some spine from the Labor Party at the federal and the state levels. The Labor Party in Tasmania did not vote with the Greens' motion to ban thermal coal mining in Tasmania. What a joke of a party, to put their hands on their hearts and say they care about real action on climate change.

On to this bill. The facts are all too clear and should be known to every member in this House. However, it is hard to keep up with the increasingly alarming reports appearing from the scientific community as they struggle to understand the rate of change they are observing in the planet's systems. They have now established a new risk category of threat, which is existential.

Scientists have talked about dangerous climate change and catastrophic climate change, but increasingly scientists are reaching for the term that best describes where we are as a human community. We are taking actions day by day, which is placing us at existential threat to the survival of not only the human species but of every other species on this planet.

There is no doubt that only the strongest possible reductions in emissions together with drawing down of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere would give us any chance of remaining below this increase of 1.5 degrees that would enable this planet to remain in a habitable form for our children, for their children and for all those who come after them.

Even if the Paris Accord target of 1.5 degrees to 2 degrees is met, we cannot exclude the risk, reputable scientists such as Professor Will Steffen, who is fortunately working in Australia, say of a cascade of feedbacks that could push the earth's system into an irreversible hothouse earth pathway.

There is no doubt the gravity of the situation. The fact that we are in a climate emergency demands a strong response. We have a scientific as well as a moral imperative to act for the people today and all those in the future, to stop the heating and to reduce our carbon emissions. We ought to be working every day to take actions to give young people a habitable, life supporting planet. That means that we need renewable energy and we need to stop using fossil fuels as fast as possible. Under 10 years is what the scientists are saying.

The Greens have always supported renewable energy development. Christine Milne, when she was senator for Tasmania in the Labor-Greens government, was the architect of the world-leading ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the renewable energy target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. These three bodies have enabled Australia to take some steps, albeit without the support of a comprehensive federal government policy because the Liberal and Labor parties have been in a death spiral trying to outdo themselves bending over to fossil fuel companies and keeping the line of continual exploration and mining going for coal, gas and oil companies.

Despite that, we have made grounds in this country. There is enormous innovation in renewable energy technologies. There is enormous appetite among Australian, and Tasmanian, people to do more to take what action we can.

A renewable energy target must be part of the actions that we take in Tasmania. We support a target for renewable energy.

It is concerning that this second reading speech does not mention the words 'climate change'. There is a disturbing lack of comment about the reasons for this bill. The minister's second reading speech talks about Australia's energy market undergoing a major transformation from dependence on fossil fuels to predominantly using renewable energy with no discussion about why that is happening and no talk about what the imperative for that is.

We know what is going on here. The minister has made it very clear in other parts of his second reading speech that this is unfortunately a PR signalling exercise to the Australian energy market operator. It could be so much more. Despite that it has the capacity to deliver so much more for Tasmania. As it stands this is the principal reason that we have this bill before us today.

The bill does set a target for doubling renewable energies from the assumed 2022 levels by 2040 and 150 per cent above the baseline by 2030. The bill does not give any mechanisms about how those targets can be achieved. It is important to understand that this bill lacks enormous detail in the mechanisms. The bill proposes twice what Tasmanians are projected to need to be self sufficient in energy by 2040. What will be the Government's renewable energy intentions? Nothing much has been released that is concrete. We do have the draft Tasmanian Renewable Energy Action Plan. Why hasn't that been signed off? The second reading speech says that it will be coming in coming months. It is unusual and concerning that we do not have the Renewable Energy Action Plan to guide us as legislators in understanding what the renewable energy target will be enabling. What will it be bringing forth when its goal is double the energy requirements Tasmanians are predicted to need for ourselves.

What we do know, is that the draft renewable energy action plan plans to double our power generation through windfarms. We currently have, at our estimation, 228 turbines functioning in Tasmania. Another 652 are proposed or under construction, and that will produce 2671 megawatts of energy by our estimation, from the figures that are publicly available.

Under the plan there will be 10 more windfarms in addition to Cattle Hill, in addition to Granville Harbour and Robbins Island. All of those windfarms are in the north. None of them are planned for the south of the state. We need to understand what the impacts of those windfarms will be. Real and reasonable concerns have been raised by many communities across the north of the state, that the government is planning a major industrialisation for the whole of north Tasmania. There has been no plan for where that will occur, nor has there been consultation with communities about these proposals. Communities are facing them one-by-one as they grow like mushrooms, but without any coordination with communities, or any consultation to enable windfarms to be considered in an orderly fashion and with some planning.

TasNetworks is proposing to build the two additional connectors from Tasmania to Victoria, and Hydro is planning to build the Battery of the Nation. It is not clear how much dispatchable capacity would be available to Victoria from the Hydro and the pumped hydro in Tasmania, but the two Marinus Links are argued to be two, 750-megawatt links totaling 1500 megawatts of dispatchable energy to Victoria and beyond.

We desperately need to get off coal- and gas fired power, but we need to understand who will benefit directly from the renewable energy target that this bill will enable. The argument is that dispatching of renewable electricity across interconnectors would help displace fossil fuels from mainland energy markets. It would make a contribution from Tasmania towards reducing the climate emergency. In that frame it is manifestly a benefit to Tasmania and to the planet. However, we have to consider the costs as well as the benefits. Renewable energy in Tasmania comes predominantly through windfarms, overhead lines and undersea cables. Each of these has an environmental cost, a social cost and economic costs. The Greens are concerned that all of those costs remain hidden, or have been obscured to the community, or are being downplayed and dismissed by the Government in its approach to furthering renewable energy.

We have an extraordinary number of intact ecosystems in Tasmania. The recent report by Swiss Re, [OK] the second largest global reinsurer, measuring biodiversity and ecosystem services across the planet, has identified that, overall, Australia has the eighth worst ecosystem and biodiversity quality on the planet. Only 2 per cent of our ecosystems are considered to intact. About 50 per cent of those intact systems are in Tasmania. We have quite an extraordinary responsibility to maintain the quality of the biodiversity and the functioning of the ecosystems in Tasmania. Many of those places are in the beautiful Tarkine, in the forests of the north west, in the beautiful areas in the central part of the state.

That is a major reason for our concern about the lack of planning with the rolling out of transmission lines across landscapes that have endangered species and threatened forest communities.

The Government has made no effort to have any comprehensive consultation process with communities about the impacts of overhead transmission lines. They have handed that work to companies like UPC, who in the community's own words, have made an appalling effort at consultation, a cynical effort. They have made it clear to the community that they are not interested in hearing what they have to say. They might hear it once, but they do not want to hear it two, three or five times, and they do not want to get back to the community. They do not want to have public meetings where people are in the same place at the same time and could ask difficult questions. The Government takes no responsibility for the impacts on local communities and is happy to hand over to international corporations to do that work on their behalf.

Furthermore, we have no idea what the real costs of the Battery of the Nation and Marinus projects would be. There are enormous issues here, when we already have more than $800 million debt from Basslink 1, and when we are talking about putting new infrastructure in, that would have a 40-year horizon with price tags starting at $3.5 billion for Marinus. We do not have a final cost for Battery of the Nation. We have to understand how much of that will end up being paid for by Tasmanian customers in their power bills.

Until it is clear that those costs will not be paid by the Tasmanian Government, or by Hydro Tasmania or TasNetworks - and through them, by the Tasmanian people - we and many others in Tasmania remain deeply cynical about the cost benefits to Tasmanians from those two large pieces of infrastructure.

The Australian energy market operator does not require this bill to be signed off this year. We were advised of that in the briefing, and the minister continues to state that. It is not true, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator Integrated System Plan, which said the Tasmanian renewable energy target would need to be legislated prior to a final investment decision in 2023-24 and they say, 'If by then, the Tasmanian Government does not legislate the TRET, then the project schedule should be revisited'.

We do not understand why the minister continues to peddle what appears to be a mistruth when AMEO has said it needs to be done in the next three years' time - not that it needs to be signed off this year. What is going on, and why is there a rush? There are huge risks economically.

I thank Climate Tasmania and the members of Climate Tasmania who provided their thoughts on this bill and made a submission. They raised questions about whether this bill is an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and said that, in the context of a climate emergency, we have to consider whether the proposed suite of Tasmanian projects is likely to contribute to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. They made a submission previously to the draft Renewable Energy Action Plan, and they argued that in terms of reducing Tasmania's emissions, other sectors in addition to electricity are more important than electricity generation. Their implication from government documents is that the export of renewable electricity from Tasmania through mostly wind farms is a necessary and cost-effective source of dispatchable renewable electricity that would be needed on the mainland to remove coal-fired power stations when they retire. We are very concerned that the Government is pushing this as the only future without considering the other competitive risks to that happening and the social and environmental costs of Battery of the Nation and Marinus.

It is only recently, in the last week, that we can see how quickly the tech industry is moving to respond to the climate emergency and the opportunity to get into the marketplace and displace coal and gas-fired power. Just on Thursday the biggest battery in Australia was announced, the largest in the southern hemisphere, by the Victorian government, a 300 megawatt big battery in Victoria. That comes on the back of each state in Australia - Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia, all the other states - making very significant investments and commitments to big battery storage to provide an opportunity for stabilising the grid, increasing the capacity of transmission links and providing emergency security response and all the other things we need to transition into a renewable energy grid.

It is the case that just about all wind and solar projects proposed for the grid now arrive with a battery-ready option attached to them. When you have the big utilities setting up with enormous battery capacity - we are talking 200 megawatts in New South Wales from AGL and 1200 megawatts in all from AGL, just one company alone - it tells us that the speed of change in the battery market is enormous.

In summary, we do not trust the level of spin and secrecy from this Government around Battery of the Nation and Marinus. We are especially concerned about what this bill will enable. This bill is silent on other renewable energy sources. It provides an opportunity for biomass burning to be utilised and declared a renewable source by the minister.

The world science community is rapidly making a U-turn in their understanding of the serious impacts of biomass burning. The latest work by European Union scientists made it very clear that we must completely change our monitoring and reporting conditions for biomass accounting and there are no acceptable payback times that are realistic and compatible with maintaining the targets set by the Paris Agreement. I am reading from the European Science Advisory Council to the European Parliament. They say that recent estimates are that 1.5 degrees may be exceeded in 10 to 20 years and an acceptable payback period for accounting for biomass emissions should be no longer than five to 10 years.

The Victorian Government has ruled out the possibility of declaring biomass burning a renewable energy source. They could see the dangers of going into that place, the dangers of the emissions that would occur and, more to the point, the incredible dangers to the loss of biodiversity from native forests if they were declared the potential feeding stock for biomass furnaces and for a massive clear-felling spree that would have decimated what remains of the beautiful Victorian forests. The Victorian government has declared that wood products from timber from native forests, waste products from timber from native forests and sawmill residue and biomass from native forests cannot be declared a renewable energy source.

Despite what the minister and the Premier might like to pretend, this Government is fully committed to biomass energy. The Department of State Growth website makes that very clear. It is listed as a biomass resource under renewable energy. It is listed as a priority area, including, and I quote, 'harnessing renewable energy based on Tasmania's endowment of residues from the agriculture and forestry industries'. This Government is intent on exploring and using every opportunity to use our native forests to feed into biomass burning opportunities when they arise and if they can be encouraged to arise and be developed as business opportunities. We wrote to the Premier to put our very real concern that this needed to be ruled out for this to be a genuine renewable energy target. To be genuine it must not include biomass burning. The Premier did not respond which was unfortunate, and instead the response from the Minister for Energy makes it clear that they are not prepared to rule out biomass burning. They say they are -

… open to adopting sustainable practices that minimise waste and turn underutilised bioproducts into value-added propositions that would include wood waste.

There can be no argument at this time in this climate emergency to use wood or wood products from native forests to feed into furnaces and to call that burning, clear-felling and all the waste on the floor and the emissions from that a renewable energy source. It would be a disastrous place for us to go as a planet. It would be a terrible stain on Tasmania, and it would be devastating to the biodiversity of forests, the plants and the animals that they protect for our joint heritage.

It is clear that the Government has invested a lot of time and is very interested. The Greens put in a right to information request on correspondence around biomass and this substantial body of work has come back. The funding that has been put into that makes it clear that, whatever the Government says, biomass burning is on the agenda and biomass burning has to be ruled out.

We flagged to the Premier that we would be seeking to amend this legislation. I can say to the House that we will be going into Committee on the bill so we can amend it to rule out biomass burning. It gives the Premier time to change his mind. I hope he will understand that this is something he carries as part of his leadership. He can step in and accept this amendment. That would be a fantastic thing for Tasmania. It is an opportunity for the Liberals and Premier Gutwein as Minister for Climate Change to set the course for where Tasmania needs to be in the future. It starts today. This bill is going to 2040 and we want to make sure that biomass burning has no part of that.