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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 10226

Mr JENKINS (11:50 AM) —The Main Committee has been very charitable in allowing the honourable member for Dawson to canvass the issues she did on this piece of legislation. She was a little unfair in the way she characterised positions that have been put by the opposition. If, in the United States, the manufacturers are able to produce and put on the road smart cars—as she described them—what encouragement is being given to the Australian motor vehicle assemblers to do that here? That is the crux of the question. The crux of the question is—and she in her contribution indicated it— that the consumer has a right to know about the level of ethanol in fuel that might affect their cars.

The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 attempts to make certain amendments to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. It might be helpful to the debate to remind listeners that the objects of the original act are (a) to encourage the additional generation of electricity from renewable sources, (b) to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and (c) to ensure that renewable energy sources are ecologically sustainable. It is very important that, whilst a range of views have been expressed in this debate, we see that there are mutually inclusive objectives in this piece of legislation. They are: to encourage a renewable energy sector and at the same time make contributions to the reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases, while at all times remembering that we should be doing this in the most ecologically sustainable way possible.

When we talk about sustainability, let us not be strictured by talking just about ecological sustainability. Economic sustainability can also be impacted in the attempts we are making. A number of people, including some of my colleagues on this side of the House, have questioned whether we are going about trying to meet some of the targets, such as the reduction in greenhouse gases, in the most efficient economic way. It is quite appropriate to raise those questions. It is a continuing debate that we should have and I think that some of these views, that might seem divergent, can meet to achieve the outcomes we want to see.

The amendments to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 contained in this bill seek to fix the administrative deficiencies in the original legislation by further clarifying definitions, including the definition of eligible renewable energy sources, to now exclude those technologies, such as fuel cells, that transform energy sources into electricity. They seek to redefine the components of a power station such that the components that operate jointly are considered to be one power station for accreditation, with the responsibility for the accreditation concentrated in a single person. They seek to tighten the circumstances under which a power station is eligible for accreditation, with a new power generator only being eligible for accreditation if the regulator is confident it represents a new, separate station rather than an expanded and modified already accredited power station. Further, this bill removes the restrictions on small generation units, such as small-scale wind generators and solar water heaters, from being eligible for renewable energy certificates. It also expands the role of the renewable energy regulator to include information gathering to ensure compliance, and the ability to suspend an accredited power station.

It is too early to assess the extent to which the act has contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated the generation of electricity from renewable sources. It should be noted that, as at July 2002, over a million renewable energy certificates had been generated. The objective of the original bill was to require electricity buyers and retailers to source an additional two per cent of their electricity purchase from renewable sources by the year 2010. The potential result in annual savings, it was hoped, would be six to seven million tonnes a year in emissions.

The government's State of the Environment 2001 report states that greenhouse gas emissions increased in Australia by nearly 17 per cent between 1990 and 1998, with Australia's total emissions in 1997 being 431 million tonnes. The emissions savings of six to seven million tonnes a year expected to eventuate by 2010 will therefore only lead to a reduction of 1.6 per cent on the 1997 emission levels. This is a target that could be described as being not good enough, especially when we compare our situation with Europe's. The European Commission has set a target that 12 per cent of their energy needs must be sourced from renewable energy by 2010. I understand the point that is made by people in debates like this that the Europeans are starting from a completely different base from ours. However, the breadth with which they are attempting to reduce the energy requirements from non-renewable sources is very important.

The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 is the only mandatory greenhouse measure introduced by the government. This government's commitment to reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions is severely lacking when compared with some of the state regimes. In particular, I want to talk today about the Victorian state government's greenhouse abatement strategies. Firstly, they include a Victorian greenhouse strategy—the first of its kind from any state in Australia—to cut the state's greenhouse emissions by seven per cent by 2010. The abatement strategy also promotes energy-efficient houses on new building projects, with incentives to developers who commit to a minimum four-star energy rating. The abatement program also includes working jointly with the building industry to implement a new five-star energy efficiency standard for all new homes. It also provides a solar hot-water rebate for all Victorians purchasing solar hot-water systems.

The Victorian state government has awarded exploration tenders for brown coal at two sites in the Latrobe Valley under an initiative that will promote new environmental technologies to reduce greenhouse emissions and, at the same time, generate significant investment and jobs in the Latrobe Valley region. The Victorian government has also introduced a wind farm policy and planning guidelines to promote wind farm developments in Victoria as a renewable energy source, and it provides certainty in the planning process—which has been one of the great criticisms that has abounded within the sector, especially from those who wish to use and promote wind technology as a renewable energy source.

As part of the 1997 Kyoto protocol, Australia undertook to limit greenhouse gas emission growth to an eight per cent increase on the 1990 levels. It has often been indicated that this was a fairly good outcome in an Australian context when it was compared with other industrialised nations which had to cut their emissions on the 1990 levels by an average of 5.2 per cent through to the year 2012. Again, I indicate that the reason for the disparities in these targets was an acknowledgment of the base, but even acknowledging the base as a contribution on Australia's behalf to what has to be a global commitment, we really need to see that there is a great advantage to us in at least sitting down with those who are going to embrace Kyoto, rather than being on the outside, with only the United States, as a non Kyoto nation.

This debate occurs at a time when we have just had the announcement of the new round of cooperative research centre funding. Regrettably, the CRC for renewable energy will no longer be funded after this seven-year round of funding. I think this sends out an appalling signal. There needs to be an explanation by government of the way in which it is going to have an integrated approach. Does it have a real commitment to properly investigating the science that can be used as the basis for different renewable energy initiatives? The Minister for Science, in announcing the successful CRC funding, said yesterday that:

Significantly, the vast majority of CRCs will undertake research in areas consistent with the national research priorities announced by the Government last week ...

That leads people to perhaps reacquaint themselves with what those priorities are. In the Prime Minister's announcement of last week he listed the national research priorities as follows:

An Environmentally Sustainable Australia;

Promoting and Maintaining Good Health;

Frontier Technologies for Building and Transforming Australian Industries; and

Safeguarding Australia.

He went on further in the media release to indicate that:

An environmentally sustainable Australia isabout transforming the way Australians use the nation's land, water, mineral and energy resources. This will depend on a better understanding of the environment and the application of new technologies to natural resource industries.

Without the work of bodies such as the Australian CRC for Renewable Energy, how will we further develop the science? Or is it that there is this scatter-gun approach, with a little bit here and there, without trying to develop bodies like a CRC, where we have industry, universities and state bodies all involved in coming together to make a concerted effort.

In a question on notice that was answered in August of this year, the member for Hunter asked the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, in terms of the $264 million allocated for the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, how much has been spent so far. The answer to that came out as $13.7 million of $264 million. That covered six projects. When will the rest of that money be allocated and spent? What types of technologies are we going to look at?

No doubt the member for Kalgoorlie, who is to follow me in this debate, will touch upon the Derby tidal project—

Mr Neville —Why would you think that?

Mr JENKINS —It would come as a surprise if he did not. On occasion, I have had to mention this project in other debates. I have also indicated that, whilst overall it might have some merit in being a renewable energy source, that does not mean that that is the only criterion upon which it should be tested. I would be interested to hear of the progress on those other environmental concerns that people from time to time have mentioned in terms of that project.

Fortunately, in the not too distant future, the review of the operation of this act that was outlined in section 162 of the original act will take place. That will be a very important opportunity for us to look at whether what the original act was designed to do and what this bill is now attempting to improve has in fact been achieved. Importantly, the thing that we want to see is that we do not get isolated and overwhelmed that this is all about creating a new renewable energy sector. It also has the other purpose of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and we want to see that the sorts of targets that people would like to achieve have been achieved.

The important aspect of this debate is that the honourable member for Wills, as the shadow spokesperson for the environment, has indicated on behalf of the opposition our commitment to increase the target from two per cent—as envisaged by the government in the legislation before us—to five per cent. Other figures are thrown around, but I think that a five per cent target is achievable. It is achievable in the context that it can be sustained, not only in an environmental ecological sense but also in an economic sense. One of the important aspects to this debate is that it is sometimes clouded by the notion that the move to renewable energy sources will overwhelmingly cost jobs. I do not think that that really is the case. The pursuance of new technologies—of which you, Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay, would be fully aware; for example, the potential for photovoltaic generation of power increases as we reach horizons in development—will reduce the costs to consumers of power generated from those sources. They are the types of things that we should concentrate on. The government should show leadership to the wider community who share the concern for the problems that this legislation is trying to address. With goodwill, we can achieve the outcomes that are being mentioned in the intergenerational sense in this debate.