One of the good things about the free market is that it is indifferent to political scaremongering.
Entrepreneurs operate by a simple rule – if you see a business opportunity that is viable, invest.
When it comes to the energy sector, the investment community has clearly decided that renewable energy is not only viable, but is the way of the future.
This year alone, renewable energy projects worth more than $7 billion will either commence construction or be completed in this country, according to figures from the Clean Energy Council.
The CEC also reports that as at June 2016, renewable energy provided 11,150 jobs, with another 4000 being created in more than 40 new projects now under construction.
This growth would have been much higher if not for job losses caused by the policies of the Federal Coalition Government. If jobs growth in renewables had kept up with global growth rates since 2013, renewables in this country would have created 24,400 jobs – a gap of 13,250 potential jobs.
Despite this there is now genuine optimism in the renewable sector.
It represents a sharp contrast to the ongoing attempts by conservative politicians to talk down renewables as part of their determination to resist genuine action on climate change.
Indeed, while the Turnbull Government continues to dither over a Clean Energy Target to appease the dinosaurs of the Hard Right, the free market players that it claims to represent are voting with their wallets.
I had an opportunity to see this first hand recently when I spent a day with Independent MP Bob Katter in his north-west Queensland electorate of Kennedy looking at the region’s infrastructure needs.
Mr Katter showed me two impressive projects that prove that investors have moved well beyond the pessimism of the naysayers.
The Kidston Solar Project, about 280 kilometres north-west of Townsville, sits on the site of the abandoned Kidston Gold Mine, which ceased production around the turn of the century.
Developer Genex came up with the ingenious idea of redeveloping the site as a solar and pumped hydro facility, taking advantage of the existing mine infrastructure.
The company is installing 537,000 photovoltaic cells mounted on a tracking system that will follow the sun across the sky.
Once fully commissioned early next year, this facility will generate enough electricity to power more than 26,000 homes, with its second stage set to add more capacity, making it the largest solar farm in Australia.
As part of Stage II, the company will utilise the old mine’s tailings dam to create a 250 MW pumped storage hydro project.
Some of the power produced by the sun by day will be used to pump water up to the dam and at night the water will be used to drive turbines.
This integration of solar and pumped storage will provide stability to the grid and a pathway to the 24/7 supply of renewables.
I also visited what will soon become the site of the Kennedy Energy Park.
Located outside of Hughenden, the project will combine solar, wind and battery storage to create renewable energy on a scale comparable to Queensland’s large coal-fired plants like Tarong and Stanwell.
That’s enough electricity to power up to 1 million homes.
Both projects have been strongly backed by Queensland’s Palaszczuk Labor Government.
But they might have withered on the vine without the mitigation of risk through the support of the Clean Energy Corporation (CFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which were set up by the former Federal Labor Government as part of our efforts to tackle climate change by promoting renewables.
Regrettably, the current Federal Coalition Government has repeatedly tried to abolish both of these institutions. It is also continuing to resist expert advice, including from the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, to create a Clean Energy Target to further support the transition to a low-emissions future.
Of course, sections of the Coalition have been divided about climate change for years.
This is mainly due to its approach in Opposition under former leader Tony Abbott, who turned the Coalition into the Noalition, which opposed anything associated with the former Labor Government.
But in 2017, as the smart money moves toward renewables, the continued antipathy toward the renewable sector makes no sense.
Still bound by the negativity that came to characterise the Abbott era, the political movements that claim to represent the free market and regional Australia won’t even shift their position based on what is actually happening on the ground in regional Australia.
Even as conservatives reject the science of climate change, the entrepreneurial spirit that is taking flight in North Queensland and many other parts of regional Australia is literally leaving them behind.
The message in all of this is that leadership requires vision and a touch of optimism.
Good leaders respond to the problems of today by imagining a better future and taking steps to make that future real.
Leaders who place political strategy ahead of the national interest end up being left behind while the rest of the world embraces the future.
This piece was first published in Business Insider on Friday, 8 September 2017: http://bit.ly/2wMM3y2
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.
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