REWIRED NATION REQUIRES GOLD STANDARD, NOT GOLD PLATING
Cheap energy is critical to reviving the Australian economy and creating new jobs.
But there’s a roadblock to reducing power prices – the inefficiency of our electricity transmission system.
Running from Tasmania to Far North Queensland, Australia’s National Energy Market grid is one of the longest in the world. But it’s not fit for purpose.
We have already seen catastrophic failures. Tasmania’s Basslink was cut off from the mainland grid for six months and wholesale electricity prices there rocketed.
Our transmission system was built for a time when solar panels ran pocket calculators, not the one in four households which have rooftop solar. The current network takes no account of the rise of renewables as the cheapest new energy source and doesn’t help link these new sources up to the national grid.
A Labor government will tackle this head-on. We would invest in the Rewiring the Nation project, an overhaul of the grid that will create jobs, reduce power prices and facilitate Australia’s potential as a renewable energy superpower.
We need a more efficient grid that can move energy in multiple directions and from far more locations.
Upgrading the grid is technology-neutral. Because renewable energy is the cheapest method of new production it will benefit most and allow the distribution of the cheapest source more efficiently.
If there’s more wind blowing in South Australia than they can use, the right transmission infrastructure will mean they can sell the excess to Victoria and NSW, lowering energy bills in the process.
It will facilitate the export of hydropower from Tasmania to the mainland. This is common sense.
Rewiring the Nation will reduce power prices. Transmission systems are operated in each state by a monopoly provider, some foreign-owned. Those companies charge ordinary Australians not only the cost of building and operating the grid, but have in the past inflated costs in a process known as “gold plating”.
Labor wants to swap gold plating for a gold standard. Renewing the grid will be delivered by a public non-financial corporation to be called Rewiring the Nation.
It will partner with transmission companies and the Australian Energy Market Operator to build, manage, maintain and operate a planned rollout of energy transmission assets.
AEMO has already produced a detailed blueprint for the work. It’s a plan that has been signed off by all governments, stacks up regardless of the energy mix, and will create up to $40 billion of economic benefits, including in lower prices for consumers.
Rewiring the Nation will create thousands of construction jobs for Australians in the regions. In addition, we’ll require projects to use Australian workers using Australian supplies.
These projects will set the foundations for revitalising traditional industries like steel and aluminium and allow new growth in emerging clean energy sectors like battery production and hydrogen energy.
Rewiring the Nation will further drive down power bills by using the Commonwealth’s ability to borrow at substantially lower interest rates, and making sure benefits are passed on to energy users here as lower prices.
The coming years will demand a sophisticated energy grid to power Australian jobs.
Providing a clear strategic plan while lowering the cost of projects ensures consumers will pay less and Australian industry has the certainty it needs to supply into these nation-building projects and deliver more jobs.
Labor is looking to the future. We understand that the rise of renewable energy is real. We seek to exploit the shift to find new opportunities for job creation.
By contrast, the Morrison government is frozen in the past as the world warms around it.
After 22 attempts over eight years, this government has no energy policy. All it has produced are higher electricity prices. Labor has vision, just as we had when last in government when we proposed the construction of a fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network.
The incoming Liberal government downgraded the project with a new model using 19th-century copper wire technology. Indeed, it bought 50,000 km of copper – enough to wrap around the earth.
Then, seven years later, it declared Labor was right in the first place and opted for the fibre-to-the-premises model. Fixing its mistake will cost Australians $4.5 billion – the price we all pay for this government of haste and waste.
Let’s not repeat this mistake. Let’s get our modern energy system right the first time.
Let’s seize this chance to shape a future for our nation as big as our potential. Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.This opinion piece was first published in the Australian Financial Review on Thursday, 15 October 2020.