As part of a $1 billion Covid-19 recovery boost, the Queensland (QLD) government has announced a $500 million Renewable Energy Fund (REF) for state-owned energy corporations to invest in commercial renewable energy projects and infrastructure.
The announcement comes some seven long months after QLD Deputy Premier Jackie Trad addressed a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for more renewable investment and Federal government backing to help create and support more jobs in more industries. Since then, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the economy wheezing to its knees, and still the Federal government has failed to respond to QLD’s call. Thankfully, QLD has learned its lesson when it comes to the Morrison Government – if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
QLD Treasurer Cameron Dick said that renewable energy opportunities are investments not only of excellent value for the taxpayer but also fecund job creators. “By putting out money on the table,” said Dick, “we can get more projects through the vital investment decision phase, to get construction underway as soon as possible.”
The announcement follows the call by Solar Citizens’ Queensland Renewable Recovery Plan which urged that “if the right investments are made now, in ten years there could be 13,430 Queenslanders employed long-term in clean energy generation and tens of thousands working in ‘green’ steel and renewable hydrogen production.” Moreover, 75% of these jobs would be created in regional QLD.
Across QLD, the economic opportunity presented by solar and wind resources is obvious. However, renewable energy only accounts for 14% of the electricity mix – the lowest in Australia and nowhere near its 50% 2030 RE target. At the same time, Queensland boasts the biggest pipeline of utility-scale PV, wind and storage projects among Australian states and territories, but the projects are often held back by grid bottlenecks and exposed to the risk of radical curtailment, including 1 GW of solar projects in the north of the state, due to network capacity and system strength.
This investment boost will work to accelerate the attractiveness of QLD’s state-owned energy corporations to industry. Only last week it was announced that Australian mining giant BHP had signed a five-year power purchase agreement with Government-owned CleanCo as it looks to cut emissions from electricity use at its QLD coal mines by 50%.
The other $500 million included in the State’s economic boost is to be put in the hands of the Queensland Investment Corporation for direct investment in QLD business and industry, a wide mandate which, in contrast to the singular $500 million investment in the renewable energy industry, puts renewables at the centre of the state’s economic recovery plan – the first real concerted green recovery plan.
QLD Renewable Energy Zones
The REF announcement builds on the $145 million the Palaszczuk Government committed to QLD’s Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) in late August 2020.
In a Ministerial Forum hosted by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) in July 2020, QLD Energy Minister Anthony Lynham said that as QLD seeks to recover and revive the state’s economy against the global economic headwinds post-Covid-19, “renewable energy will be a strength.”
Lynham said that Queensland is watching NSW “with interest,” as regards the success of its REZs. In late June 2020, the NSW Government’s plan to deliver a 3 GW REZ in the state’s Central-West was met with overwhelming investor interest and project proposals valued at $38 billion.
It is great for NSW, said Lynham, “but it (REZs) has been firmly on our radar for some time. So watch this space when it comes to renewable energy zones.” Well, it turns out “this space” was worth watching because Lynham says the REF “will complement our $145 million commitment to establish three renewable energy zones to foster jobs and growth in regional Queensland.”
A recent study from the Australian National University (ANU) warned of the urgent need for “more investment to remove bottlenecks in the deployment of further renewables…An effective way to do this,” said Professor Andrew Blakers, “is to upgrade transmission lines from rural Renewable Energy Zones, such as those recently announced in NSW and Queensland, to our cities.
CEC Chief Executive Kane Thornton welcomed “the very clear recognition by the Queensland Government that the renewable energy sector can play a big role in jumpstarting economic activity and jobs across the state following the impacts of Covid-19, while accelerating QLD’s transition to becoming a clean energy powerhouse.”
“This fund will be a big shot in the arm for clean energy investment in Queensland,” continued Thornton, “which has otherwise slowed since the start of 2019.” According to the CEC, between January 2019 and June 2020 only three large-scale projects were financially committed, a significant drop on previous years.
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