Vote to unblock solar energy in Queensland: by Trevor Berrill

Windorah Solar Farm in western Queensland

Windorah Solar Farm in western Queensland

Australians strongly support the use of solar energy as they know it saves them money, creates jobs and is clean.

So you would think they would like to vote for a government that supports the solar industry’s continued growth.

Solar system costs have fallen dramatically since 2000 when strong policies to support solar and help bring down costs were introduced at State and Federal government level. As a result, rooftop solar grew rapidly to over 2 million homes with either solar electricity, water heating or both.

Partly this has led to solar becoming cost effective without government handouts. However, the main reason was the rapid scaling up of the solar industry as a result of German and Chinese government policies to develop the industry.

But now the solar industry’s development is being actively blocked by conservative government policies in Australia. This is at a crucial time when urgent action is being called for to address climate change that threatens our economy and natural assets such as the Great Barrier Reef.  Solar is an essential ingredient to addressing this global problem. So what has happened to the solar industry over the past 3 years of LNP government in Queensland?

Election commitments

Trevor Berrill Sustainable Energy Systems Consultant & Educator

Trevor Berrill Sustainable Energy Systems Consultant & Educator

Whilst the LNP has been criticised for not keeping election promises, they did remove support for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures almost immediately after the 2012 election.

These industry sectors were creating thousands of jobs in Queensland whilst saving home owners and businesses millions of dollars in energy costs as electricity prices spiralled upwards.  The Australian Solar Council estimates that in the solar industry alone, jobs would have grown from around 5000 (2012) to 7500 full-time equivalent positions by the end of 2014.

This would have partially offset job losses in the coal industry, which fell by about 5000 jobs from 2012/13 to 2013/14.

Unfortunately, solar jobs have also fallen by about 1500 over the last couple of years. Now a recent report by Professor Carmignani from Griffith University, shows that Queensland is not faring as well under the LNP as it did in the last 6 years of the Bligh government, with unemployment increasing. At least part of this decline is due to the jobs lost in the solar industry.

Queensland was becoming a leader in this field with renewable energies growing at about 12 percent per annum under the last 3 years of the Labor government. If this growth had been maintained, many more jobs would have been created and the Queensland electricity sector could have transitioned to almost 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

Instead of supporting solar, the Newman Government continued to attack the solar industry. They chose to slash electricity feed in tariffs for solar on homes, even suggesting that solar system owners could somehow negotiate a feed in rate with electricity retails. They also increased fixed charges for access to poles and wires. Now the LNP, via Energex regulations, are disallowing solar systems on commercial premises from exporting any excess energy to the electricity network. Technical reasons are given but the main reasons are political.

All these measures discourage larger systems from being installed and increase the payback time for solar systems. Furthermore, the LNP have not supported any large scale solar and wind energy projects in the Sunshine State since they came to power, even though some very large projects have been proposed.

Why is the solar industry being blocked?

So why would the LNP wish to ‘’block” the development of the solar industry, both at State and Federal government levels?

Firstly much of the State’s electricity generation capacity is State owned coal and gas power stations. Historically these returned millions of dollars to the State Treasury each year through electricity sales. This income stream has slowed dramatically, not just in Queensland, but right across Australia, with some coal fired power stations running at a loss. This occurred partly because rooftop solar on homes and businesses, combined with improvements in energy efficiency, have reduced the national demand for electricity from coal and gas power stations.

Secondly, the finance industry is increasingly seeing coal power stations as a risky investment, given increasing calls for action to address an emerging climate crisis. China and the US have finally reached an agreement to act on this issue and this is likely to strongly influence other countries such as India, a buyer of Australian coal. So the Queensland Government is seeing the increased likelihood of our coal reserves, mining infrastructure and power stations becoming “stranded assets”. This has been highlight by former Liberal leader and economist, John Hewson. It means that the asset value could fall, right at a time when the State LNP government wishes to sell or give 99 year leases on some of these assets in order to pay for their election promises. Furthermore, a reduction in coal and gas sales would reduce royalty payments to Treasury, currently at about $2 billion per year or about 4 percent of the State’s annual budget.

Finally, the State government has chosen mining as one of the four pillars of its economic strategy and has been spending between 1 and 2 billion dollars each year for investment in coal and gas infrastructure, effectively a form of subsidy costing Queensland households about $500 to $1000 per home each year.  This means less money available to support other industry development.

We need to de-throne king coal!

What is required to address climate change is a carefully planned transition to a low carbon future, where renewable energy, combined with energy efficiency measures, will play the dominate role in energy supply, and much of the fossil fuels reserves will have to remain unburnt. This is recognized as necessary now by many respected institutions such as the International Energy Agency, the IMF and the IPCC if global warming is to be contained below a 2 degree Celsius rise. It is both technically and economically possible as research by Beyond Zero Emissions, Bloomberg  and others clearly shows.

Industry groups such as the Australian Solar Council (ASC) are calling on voters to support solar and other renewable energies at the coming election by carefully choosing who they vote for.

This transition was starting to happen in Queensland under the Labor government’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency plans. It took many years to develop and implement these policies before they were replaced by the LNP. Unfortunately, the current Queensland Labor opposition’s energy policy is very weak and vague in this regard, with minimal promises being made. So it seems that even if Labor was returned to power on Saturday, they would be unlikely to strongly support the solar industry.

The ASC is asking the next State government to get behind the solar revolution, not block it. This is most unlikely to happen if the LNP is returned. A minimalist approach is likely to be taken by Labor.

Lets learn from Guy Pearse’s report Coal is still King in Queensland: perhaps we need to de-throne the king!

 

Written by: Trevor Berrill from Wellington Point

Sustainable Energy Systems Consultant & Educator

For further reading see References Trevor Berrill Article R2030

Election matter is authorised by Steve MacDonald of 104 Channel St, Cleveland

Please note: Offensive or off-topic comments will be deleted. If offended by any published comment please email thereporter@redlands2030.net

4 thoughts on “Vote to unblock solar energy in Queensland: by Trevor Berrill

  1. The solar energy report is spot on, Campbell Newman had publicly stated “we” (his ex LNP govt) are in the business of coal. Coal has done a tremendous job in the past in powering our world, but for environmental reasons it is now time to move on to renewable power as other countries are doing.
    Having and sticking with the best coal fired power stations in the world today as one’s primary source of power, is like owning and persisting with the best horse and buggy business in town. Technology has moved on. Consumers both residential and businesses are finding locally produced solar electricity cheaper, without increasing global warming. There are also now proven ways of storing base load generated from solar. I know solar backers are on a winner.The voting public spoke at recent elections and have shown the door to short sighted “in the business of coal” politicans like Campbell Newman.

    On a separate but related issue the solar power industry has been “managed” woefully (maybe deliberately) in Queensland. I do not have solar for the following main reasons:
    govt. rebates are all over the place, and whatever rebate you do obtain in your contract is not transferrable to the new owner should you sell your home. Real Estate statistics state people move home on an average of 7 years Why should the rebate not be transferable to the new owner?.
    Carford

  2. This is an honest and straight forward report that we all need to address thank you Trevor the greens and labour did get this right and it would be best for the long term health of our country the step back to that plan is a step in the right direction for us all

  3. Trevor thank you for your report, hope many hundreds read your comments, I have solar power and Hot water and know that those who made the investment have reduced the costs for governments to build more power stations which then is a benefit to the taxpayers. Shame LNP is so stupid and short sighted.

  4. Interesting, thought provoking ideas. Now who will I vote for in the election??? It doesn’t really matter if I listen to what the politicians say, as they inevitably back flip and go against what they’ve promised anyway.

    We, as a nation, have a chance to be great. We have ideal environmental conditions to be a world leader in renewable energy, and I know that Australia loves to be seen as a world leader! We need our politicians to get out of the mind-set of worrying about the income they’ll lose from the coal and mining sectors and start focussing on the leaps forward in our production and standards of living if we are utilising our environment to help provide what we’re currently destroying the country to mine and utilise. Throw your money behind renewable energy and create jobs by encouraging every Australian household and business to install solar panels. Create jobs by having Australia produce the best panels in the world, so other countries COME TO US for the goods. Why should we constantly have to import products? We’ve got some incredibly clever Australians who can put their brains to good use and create the Aussie Panels – built by Australians, for Australians and the Australian climate. Everyone around the world loves Australia and we should utilise this fascination with our country and it’s people, by providing our products for their use. Come on Australia! Get your thinking into the modern day and start thinking about the future of our beautiful country and not about the $value you can make today at the expense of our natural environment!

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