Aug 18, 2005

Wind energy: A simple clean answer – Australian Wind Energy Association’s 2005

Speech by Anthony Albanese MP to the Australian Wind Energy Association’s 2005 Annual Conference

18 August 2005

Climate change is the most serious environmental challenge confronting our global community. The challenge is a social and economic one as much as it is environmental.

The question is how we move forward and avoid dangerous climate change. The answer, or at least part of the answer, is through clean energy solutions such as wind power.

In 1963, Bob Dylan sung the answer is blowin’ in the wind. Well, he wasn’t too far off the mark.

The climate skeptics are increasingly being isolated as the flat earthers of the 21st century. But just last week however they made a comeback. In a submission to the Federal Court, the Environment Minister challenged the fact that Greenhouse Gas emissions contribute to global warming. This caused the Environmental Defenders Office solicitor, Kirsty Ruddock to declare “we thought that with some of these issues there was no scientific debate these days”.

Was the sworn Court statement by the Minister for the Environment consistent with the Howard Government’s rhetoric when announcing the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate? No, it wasn’t. Was the Minister’s sworn statement consistent with the findings of the report titled Climate Change, Risk and Vulnerability Report provided to the Government by Allen Consulting? No, it wasn’t. Was the Minister’s sworn statement consistent with the assessments of the Australian Greenhouse Office or the CSIRO? No, of course not.

After nine long years, the Minister’s statement to the Federal Court shows once again the Howard Government’s cynical approach to a critical environmental and economic issue. The Howard Government sees no contradiction in proclaiming that Australia will meet the Kyoto target – while also claiming that ratification would destroy economic growth.

The Howard Government signs the vision statement of the Asia Pacific Partnership, which concludes it “will complement, but not replace, the Kyoto Protocol” – but then Senior Ministers proceed to trash Kyoto. The Government is playing games and deliberately sending conflicting messages to different audiences. The Government is two-faced on climate change.

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change is too important to be hostage to the Government’s spin. It’s not just a matter of agreeing. There needs to be action. Determining when to act is often as important as determining how to act. Clearly the time to act is now.

As I hope you are aware I have a Private Members Bill, the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Ratification Bill) which has received a Second Reading before the Parliament.

Today I announce that Shadow Cabinet and the ALP Caucus have approved the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Climate Change Trigger) Bill.

I have submitted the private members Bill this week and it will be debated in the Parliament on Monday 5th September. This Bill would amend the Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act to ensure the impact of major projects on Greenhouse Gas Emissions was considered. It is a necessary reform, and one the Government has resisted.

In moving this as a Private Members Bill, Labor is making our approach to Climate Change very clear. We support a climate change trigger in federal environment laws. We support the Kyoto Protocol. We support emissions trading. We support significantly increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. Having identified the problem, we cannot leave it to our children and grandchildren to act.

Finite resources

Fossil fuels are a finite resource. The expiry date of this resource however is unknown. The reality is that we are running out of time much faster than we are running out of fossil fuels. Action can not be deferred because cheaper options remain in the ground. Even George Bush has finally recognised what is happening to our planet and has acknowledged that we need to do something about it.

We know the challenge and most importantly we know enough to act now. We need to confront the problem immediately and head on. The stakes are too high. This is not about jobs verses the environment as the Howard government would have us believe. That is a false and unproductive debate. Indeed, strong action is vital for our economic future.

It has been continuously frustrating to watch the Howard government sidetrack and muddy the debate on this issue. Only last week we saw the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources selectively avoid the key aspects of the debate in response to the International Energy Agency’s report addressing Australia’s energy policy. While rightly trumpeting the security and economic efficiency of the Australian energy market, the Ministers failed to mention the IEA call for the introduction of an emissions trading scheme and targets for energy efficiency.

The IEA report discusses Australia’s current record, stating that “Australia’s emission intensity is very high. Australia’s emissions of CO2 from fuel combustion per unit of GDP are the second-highest in the IEA, behind the Czech Republic, and 43% above the IEA average.”

Despite these stark realities the government continues to assert that new technology alone will be effective in reducing greenhouse emissions. While research and development are key components of any targeted strategy for emission reduction, alone they are not the answer. The Howard Government’s approach is very high risk. It puts all our eggs in one basket. It denies the expansion of technologies already available – solutions that are already tried and tested – such as wind energy.

What is needed from Government are drivers of technology change and policies which promote the take up of renewables. Relying solely on technology without other reform is like trying to empty a puddle while the tap is still running. The Howard government’s selective and isolationist attitude continues to inhibit further development of the renewable energy sector and subsequently our ability to avoid further dangerous climate change.

An emissions trading scheme is a necessary component of any serious policy to address Climate Change. Leadership and vision is already being provided by state and territory governments around this country. Design propositions have been agreed to as the basis for further development and investigation. Labor is committed to deliver an emissions trading scheme on a national level. If we deliver the right signals, provide the right incentives within a well developed and supported regulatory framework I believe the market will deliver.

Climate change poses a challenge for Australia and the world, and Australians must rise to that challenge. All of us — industry, governments, communities and individuals — must do our fair share. With this challenge comes opportunity: to enhance our health through cleaner air and to strengthen our competitiveness by transforming our economy to make it more efficient and more sustainable. Doing so means drawing on the ingenuity and innovation of all Australians.

Clean technologies

I congratulate the Australian Wind Energy Association on the launch of the Asia-Pacific Global Wind Energy Council. We know that Climate Change is a global problem that needs global solutions. The aims of the Council explicitly recognise this need, to reach out globally, to share information, to provide education, for business leadership and strong policy development.

Our region holds many exciting investment possibilities yet only with a global mindset can there be the necessary transfer of know how and technical expertise to see a world-wide wind energy network. Partnerships in our region have the potential to unlock huge economic and environmental opportunities for our nation.

With the necessary mechanisms and support it is clear that the Australian Wind Industry can become the focal point for our region. Indeed, our full participation in the global network is essential to unlocking environmental and economic growth opportunities.

The Howard Government has so far failed to take up this opportunity. The Howard Government has no national climate change strategy despite its own predictions Australia will increase its overall greenhouse pollution by 23% by 2020. The Government has left us unprepared for the impacts of climate change. We have the potential for a stronger renewable energy industry, yet the government’s inaction has instead seen our jobs go overseas and our market isolated. The Howard Government’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol rendered the future of our renewable energy industry vulnerable. The technologies are there. They are proven and available solutions – these are not far distant notions.

The West Australian Government has recently embraced this solution. Perth’s $387m seawater desalination plant will be powered by the development of the Emu Plains wind farm. While the Emu Plains wind farm will produce 80 Megawatts of power, the desalination plant will require only 24 MW allowing for further emission free subsequent boost to the supply. Overall the Emu Downs Farm will produce enough green power for 50 000 homes, displacing the emission of 220 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is an important development and I commend the Western Australian Government on its initiative. This will be a huge boost for the wind energy industry and provides an important precedent for tackling large scale infrastructure projects.

And in the news yesterday I noticed that a chain of burger restaurants in the US is moving to wind energy. The Holland Inc owns the Burgerville and Noodlin’ fastfood restaurants throughout Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. They have committed to use renewable wind power to provide 100% of its electricity needs, both at its chain stores and also at its corporate headquarters in Vancouver. The renewable energy will come from large-scale wind farms located throughout the Pacific Northwest. According to reports, by utilizing wind power, the company and its restaurants will reduce its greenhouse gases emissions by 17.4 million pounds of CO2. This is the equivalent of taking approximately 1,700 cars off the road. Who’d have ever thought fast-food could be that healthy.

The case for Wind Energy

We are blessed with natural resources in this vast country of ours. Fossil fuels, yes. But also a vast wealth of renewable resources. We have a good hand, but we need to play our cards well. Diversification of our energy sources is essential.

We have to ensure that we spread the risk and invest in a range of technologies, as well as looking at energy efficient technologies that reduce our overall demand. Wind energy is one of Australia’s most successful renewable energy technologies.

Recent announcements by the NSW, WA and Victorian State Labor governments show the potential of our expanding wind energy industry. When leadership is engaged, real results are produced. Combined, the new projects at Wattle Point, Waubra and Crookwell will have a combined capacity of 375 Megawatts – enough power for 170 000 homes. Wattle Point has been built, which is fantastic. But the projects at Waubra and Crookwell, though approved and given planning permission by the State Government, will probably need an expansion of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target to succeed. If completed, these projects would nearly double Australia’s current installed wind energy capacity.

We know that wind energy is a proven technology and has become significantly more cost-competitive over the past decade. The current difference in generation costs between wind power and fossil fuels is steadily narrowing. If Australia’s wind industry continues to match international growth the price differential will further narrow – overlapping with gas this decade and coal in the next.

This of course depends on continued market growth. The attraction of steady growth has seen several foreign companies invest in our wind energy sector. Much of this current foreign investment continues on the premise that the success of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target will lead to its subsequent expansion, as has occurred in the UK, EU and some US states. There are now over 6000 megawatts of wind energy projects on the table around Australia. However, many of these projects will not be able to proceed under the current MRET.

Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET)

All around the world governments are putting in place polices to facilitate the growth of the renewable energy industry. The future for United Kingdom wind power was brightened with the July 2003 approval of up to 6 00MW of offshore wind by 2010. In Spain, Denmark and Germany alone the expansion of the renewable energy sector has created about a quarter of a million new jobs in the last few years.

John Howard’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol has meant Australian companies such as Macquarie Bank are investing in massive renewable energy projects in Europe and Britain. Wind continues to be the world’s fastest growing energy source. Yet at home we must do better. According to Business Review Weekly. Australia is missing out on $3 billion worth of investment due to the inertia of the Howard Government. We need a framework that challenges and pushes us forward.

If we are to grow our renewable energy industry effectively and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need a regulatory frame work that allows the market to operate with certainly. We need effective incentives to drive investment.

Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets (MRET) are part of this solution. MRET seeks to diversify our electricity mix and contribute towards greenhouse gas abatement in the long term. MRET is needed to ensure there is incentive and viability for the renewable energy industry.

The theory behind MRET is right and it works. The incentive is an effective subsidy provided by the market. But the Howard Government has set the bar too low. As the current Mandatory Renewable Energy Target is expected to be reached within the next two years, we are essentially capping our capabilities. Avoiding further dangerous climate means long term vision, ambitious targets and multiple solutions. Small targets mean small returns. Quickly achieved outcomes may look good for government but short-sightedness is killing our potential and with it our environment. Our renewable energy market needs long term vision if we are to see the rewards, to boosts in jobs and investment. We need far reaching goals. This is a marathon not a brisk morning walk. An ambitious yet achievable target means a real boost for our renewable energy industry.

At the last election Labor committed to increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target by 5% by 2010. We must always continue to review our goals. By the time of the next election we will review that commitment to ensure it is as strong as possible.

Last week in a Ministerial Statement on the Asia Pacific Pact the Minister said, “we will not be seeking to impose arbitrary targets, mandatory policies or artificial timeframes”. What nonsense. It even contradicts the very existence of MRET! I bet the Government’s representative to this Conference doesn’t say that.

Labor will announce an ambitious target closer to the election. Labor’s MRET target will be ambitious, but definitely achievable. I believe we can and must reach further, to ensure the success of our renewable industry, for our economy and jobs at home and for the prosperity and sustainability of this country.

In Germany the use of renewables has grown from 4-9% in just 6 years. Conservative Opposition leader Angela Merkel has quickly realised that tens of thousands of jobs would be threatened if this commitment was wound back. Renewable targets should be viewed in the context of overall emissions reduction targets. The United Kingdom has already set itself a target of a 60% emissions reduction by 2050 as has New South Wales. These are the kind of aims – this is the kind of vision and leadership that is needed to meet the challenge.

Labor stands for a strong economy, creating wealth and security for all Australians.

And Labor understands that environmental progress is a necessary component of economic prosperity.

We will work with you to ensure the renewable energy industry gets the support that it deserves.

Our very future depends on it.