Feds launch national body to seize clean energy opportunities


The federal government will legislate a national Net Zero Authority to plan, coordinate and provide advice on the transition to renewable energy, ensuring coal-dependent communities, industries and workers can seize the opportunities presented by Australia’s net-zero transformation.

Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced the new Net Zero Authority on Friday during a visit to the now-defunct coal-fired Liddell power plant near Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales.

Bowen – who also announced that $400 million (USD 269.5 million) will be made available under the $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund to help industries in Australia’s regions to decarbonise – said the new authority will help maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of Australia’s energy transition, driving the creation of good jobs in new industries and ensuring no worker or community is left behind.

“The global transformation to a net-zero economy is a massive source of economic opportunity for Australia, its regions, industries and workers,” he said.

“The authority will have responsibility for promoting the orderly and positive economic transformation associated with achieving net-zero emissions.”

The legislated body will be tasked with coordinating Australia’s energy transition – from fossil-fuel-generated power to renewable alternatives – by providing advice to governments on policy and regulations, setting national plans and targets, and supporting regions and communities to attract and take advantage of new clean energy industries.

It will also support workers in emissions-intensive sectors to access new employment opportunities as the net-zero transformation continues and help investors and companies to engage with new renewable energy opportunities.

The new authority has been welcomed by unions and industry alike.

Image: ETU

“The authority will have the job of assisting regions like the Hunter, like Central Queensland, like Collie in Western Australia and regions just like it around Australia who are at the core of our energy and our industry in this transformation,” Bowen said.

The new authority will be shadowed by the $400 million Industrial Transformation Stream, to be administered by Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which will be made available to support existing industry – such as rail and aviation – and new clean energy industries.

“Decarbonisation is absolutely essential, but it also takes investment. And we know it’s in the nation’s interests for Australian industries in the regions to be investing in decarbonisation and, therefore, it is in the interests of the government to help,” Bowen said.

Climate Council Chief Executive Officer Amanda McKenzie said the new Net Zero Authority will be crucial to ensure everyone gets to share in Australia’s next era of prosperity as a renewables superpower.

“Australia’s global allies and trading partners are forging ahead with the transition to net zero and it makes perfect sense for Australia to get in the game,” she said. “Taking strong action now is the best way to ensure Australia captures growing markets for clean energy and low-emissions products, to power the next era of our national prosperity.”

“There is no doubt Australia’s path to net zero requires transformative change. Last week the Liddell coal-fired power station went offline. The Victorian and Queensland governments have announced their plans to fully exit coal power generation. It won’t be long before all coal is retired for good.

“Communities in regions where fossil fuels are being phased out and those in Renewable Energy Zones need a voice, clear plans and strong investment to guide the transformation of their local economies and industries.”

The federal government said a new agency will be established in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from 1 July 2023 to initiate the Net Zero Authority’s responsibilities and help inform government on the final design and establishment of body.

It is expected funding for the authority will be included in Tuesday’s Budget with Treasurer Jim Chalmers saying it would show “a substantial effort to grab the opportunities of the net-zero transformation”.

“This budget will be very focused on the industrial and economic opportunities of the clean energy transformation,” he said.

The announcement of the Net Zero Authority has won broad support across the business, environmental and renewable energy sectors with the Clean Energy Council (CEC) Chief Executive Kane Thornton saying the national body is a “vital piece of the puzzle as we shift towards a cleaner, more prosperous economic future for all Australians.”

“To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, Australia will require critical transformations over three decades, and establishing a Net Zero Authority will allow Australians to work toward a cleaner future,” he said.

Thornton said the shift to clean energy could be transformative for Australia’s regional communities, “providing low-cost, renewable energy to consumers and long-term employment pathways in the clean energy sector.”

“A Net Zero Authority with dedicated funding and a long-term mandate will ensure the appropriate level of coordination, durability, and leadership necessary to achieve a genuinely just energy transition,” he said.

Australian Services Union (ASU) National Secretary Robert Potter described the government’s announcement as a “life-changing event” for workers in emissions-intensive industries, saying the authority will ensure those workers have access to employment opportunities and can play a part in the energy transition.

“We do not have to choose between the environment and jobs – it is our responsibility to act on both to the benefit of all communities,” he said. “For thousands of workers, the transition to clean energy affects their employment, the lives of their families and the viability of their communities.”

“Federal leadership has been urgently needed to plan and manage the transition so workers, families and communities are not left behind and benefit with new jobs in growth industries. The new body will deliver federal funding and coordination under a structured plan, with workers voices at the heart of this effort.”

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