NSW gets a glimpse of its first ever renewable energy target

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At a combined environment and climate-change announcement made at Mambo Wanda Wetlands Reserve in Port Stephens this morning, NSW Labor Leader, Michael Daley, pledged to save a colony of koalas from eviction, and to institute an overarching Climate Change Action Plan if his party wins at the polls on 23 March this year.

The key points of the new energy-policy announcements are that the State Opposition commits to source at least 50% of NSW’s energy from renewable sources by 2030, ramping that up to “as close as possible to 100%” by 2050, Daley said today.

Among the strategies Labor would deploy to ensure these goals are achieved is to hold a Climate Change Summit in its first year of office.

With input from all stakeholders, including community groups, scientists, regulators, the Commonwealth and energy-industry representatives, the Summit outcomes would then: “provide a roadmap to net-zero emissions by 2050” and “be folded into a Climate Change Act for NSW”, Adam Searle, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, told pv magazine on his drive back from Port Stephens this morning.

The policy statement also pledges that under Labor, all NSW state-managed Government agencies will run on 100% renewable energy by 2025.

Government energy use would be sourced, “mainly from power purchase agreements”, says Searle, who adds, that Labor will also “do an audit of all government buildings — that’s talking schools, hospitals and social housing — and put solar panels on the roofs where suitable.”

Searle says Opposition Leader Michael Daley would have set this target for Government agencies for 2020 had the figures on their energy consumption been made available by the incumbent Liberal-National Coalition. “We pursued this in Budget Estimates last year,” says Searle, “but the Government wouldn’t tell us.”

He knows that the three contracts under which the Government purchases its power are up for renewal next year, and that “they’d be very substantial”. Being cautious, he says, “I just don’t know whether we could get to 100% renewables in 2020, or whether it would have to be by 2025, so I’ve set the frame to give us the time we need to get there.”

“Solar-generation will play a massive role,” in Labor’s plans, Searle told pv magazine earlier this month, when his party announced a strategy of reverse auctions and the establishment of a state-owned energy corporation to drive a combined 7 GW of renewable energy into the state electricity market.

Searle says the electricity needs of government agencies could be met by the planned reverse-auctions: “It may be that we end up buying the energy through the reverse auctions, at least in the first instance. There are a number of ways we can get there.”

Including Labor’s first phase of renewable-energy-based election promises made on 9 February — in which it pledged half a million of the state’s households with incomes below $180,000 would receive rebates of $2,200 on installation of new rooftop PV systems — the total new-renewables capacity in the state under Labor is set to reach 9 GW of energy by 2030.

Labor has said it recognises the urgency of bringing new clean energy into the system, with Searle reiterating this morning that, “Around half of the electricity in NSW currently relies on will retire over the next 16 years, as ageing coal-fired stations reach the end of their life. Future electricity supplies for NSW will be at risk unless new power sources are built.”

Just yesterday pv magazine reported on new Climate Council analysis that warned, “There is a serious risk that New South Wales will be caught short as coal power stations close or unexpectedly fail in extreme weather events.”

The Climate Council report, Ageing and Unprepared: Energy in New South Wales, called out that the state has fallen way behind in energy transition, with only 16% of its power generated by renewables — 9% by hydro, 1% by biogas and other fuels and only 6% by solar and wind.

“New South Wales has globally significant wind and solar resources of an excellent quality,” write the Climate Council researchers. Proof of the potential they say, is that 20,000 MW of renewable energy projects have been received or are awaiting planning approval from the state government.

“In order for some of these projects to be built, there must be clear policies to encourage renewable energy and enable investment in new transmission and energy storage capacity,” the Climate Council urged.

Currently, Victoria and Queensland are way ahead of New South Wales in terms of committed wind and solar projects and the economic opportunities they will generate. According to the Clean Energy Regulator, as of 31 December: Victoria had 2,050 MW in the pipeline and Queensland had committed to building 1,133 MW, while NSW sat at 983 MW.

In 2016, the Climate Council’s Renewable Energy Jobs report found that New South Wales would experience the highest employment growth of any state under a 50% renewable energy target, forecasting the creation of 11,000 jobs in the sector.

With 23 days until the State election, the Berejiklian government has time to match or counter Labor’s offer to the people of New South Wales whose wellbeing, economy, and environment will be determined by strong and considered government management of the state’s energy transition.