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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 10230


Mr HAASE (12:06 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002. It is a bill that I wholeheartedly support. One of the reasons for that wholehearted support is that it offers clarification on what are eligible renewable energy sources under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. The clarification confirms, among other things, that fossil fuel based products such as plastic and rubber would not be eligible under the act as a renewable energy source. This clarification is vital for people who are looking to invest in renewable energy projects. The common theme among renewable energy projects is that generally they have an exceptionally long life, they have a low operating cost but they demand high capital investment—and capital raising in an unsure environment is a very difficult task indeed. So this amendment will go some way to clarifying the future for ideas in renewable energy. This amendment will clarify what is an eligible renewable energy source, what is an accredited power station and what is relevant acquisition of electricity.

The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 was a world-leading piece of legislation, and these amendments today will enhance and strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness in the administration of the legislation. With the increased knowledge of the effects of greenhouse emissions on the environment, renewable clean energy is a way that we as a nation can minimise the impact on our environment. Australia's very way of life revolves around the great outdoors, and we gain many benefits from this robust way of living. But unless we encourage the generation of electricity from renewable sources and continue to investigate practical and meaningful solutions to many of the issues raised at Kyoto, our lifestyles will change in a very detrimental way. I have a particular interest in renewable energy. One of the regions in my electorate of Kalgoorlie has the potential to produce clean, renewable energy using the tidal resources of the Derby region.

The member for Scullin almost pre-empted the fact that I would, in this opportunity to speak to this legislation, speak of Derby tidal energy. That was highly predictable. The member for Scullin also said that the government is neglecting investment encouragement in the renewable energy field because, after seven years, we are not supporting the renewable energy CRC. I bring the attention of the House to the fact that some $20 million-plus has been pledged by the Minister for Education, Science and Training to the Desert Knowledge Project in Central Australia. Associated with that particular project is the Centre for the Management of Arid Environments in Kalgoorlie, my home town, in Western Australia. This is a very relevant institution. Members need to keep in mind the fact that some 70 per cent of the Australian landmass is arid environment. As much as it may be extremely popular—and fashionable, dare I say—to pursue renewable energy and studies of the environment per se, the majority of this population lives on the coastal fringes of this great nation and the greatest majority of this same great nation is arid environment. Money ought to be spent—and is being spent—on investigations of sustainability and appropriate management of our 70 per cent arid environment.

The member for Shortland suggested that, because of our lack of attention and encouragement in supporting the renewable energy environment in Australia, we are suffering extremes of weather conditions. In recent times, we have had a great deal of debate pertaining to weather and weather forecasting, because we are in the grip of one of the worst droughts that we have ever seen, a drought covering more of this nation than ever before at the same time. But it is interesting and very sobering to note—enlightening to note, perhaps—that the most detailed long-term records kept by the most senior meteorological department of this country show no significant change in the overall highs and lows of our weather conditions since records commenced. It is interesting to note that, even though we blame the currently extremely dry conditions on the El Nino effect, this particular El Nino effect indicates a temperature increase in the mid-Pacific of only some two degrees. Previous El Nino conditions have shown temperature increases of some five degrees. One could hardly suggest that we are entering a period of extreme weather conditions—certainly not that the conditions are irreversible.

The member for Shortland suggested that this Howard-led conservative government has no interest in reducing greenhouse gases. I wish to enlighten the member for Shortland—hopefully, not too many other members—that this Howard-led government entered into an agreement that has created the remote renewable power generation program. That program in Western Australia alone makes some $80 million available over a four-year period to meet 50 per cent of the capital cost of projects for power generation that is off grid.

I am pleased to say that that leads me directly back to the Derby tidal power proposal. This tidal energy proposal—the capturing of tidal energy and its conversion to electricity—is a project that will take some $360 million to complete. But the $360 million so invested will last indefinitely. The operating costs are absolutely minimal—the turbines are changed as technology changes; in 20 years you would see a turbine change-out—and the project has the potential to produce up to 120 kilowatts of power. Through sophisticated switching and control of water flows, the project has the capacity to produce energy on an ongoing basis around the clock—unlike, for instance, the St Laurent installation on the west coast of France in Brittany, which is a periodic producer of tidal energy using the great mass of water that is held captive until such time as that energy is required to be fed into an electric grid across France, a grid that is, as I say, predominantly supplied by nuclear power.

The Kimberley tidal region has a movement of up to 12 metres, and for eons this energy has been doing nothing more than move the tide backwards and forwards. This has been noted in the past by the high tide day, which is celebrated annually in Derby on the king tides. Next year, 2003, it is going to be celebrated on 18 May. That will allow visitors to Derby to witness that incredible rush of tidal water: from zero at the bottom of the Derby wharf to lapping the Derby wharf six hours later—some 12 metres of movement. This project is proposed to harness that energy.

We hope that energy will be used to provide the domestic power requirements of the West Kimberley. As a testing block, it has the potential to promote the construction of similar facilities producing up to 1,000 megawatts. That particular area is adjacent to substantial mineral deposits. Those mineral deposits have been undeveloped thus far but known about for many years. They have been undeveloped because there is no source of economic power. In this regard, I refer to bauxite deposits that have the potential to produce aluminium—known around the world as solidified electricity. To produce aluminium you need huge quantities of electricity at a world price of less than US2c per unit. The creation of tidal energy in that vicinity would cost less than US2c per unit and would be limitless and clean.

If we do not in the immediate future have the opportunity to supply one of the mining industries with cheap clean energy, the other potential for that conversion of energy from tidal is to produce a truly clean form of hydrogen. Many may recall their high school science experiments and one involving a very simple process where electrodes were put in water and energy separated hydrogen from oxygen. That is a very simple process indeed and, on a larger scale, there is very little difference in the process.

The topography of the Kimberley coast that I was referring to has been assessed by the CSIRO to have the potential to supply the equivalent energy of all the energy consumed in Australia today. That is a very sobering statistic. If you consider all of the energy that is used today, it includes coal, fuel oil, diesel, energy for mobility and heating homes, and, I might add, even down to the log on the fire. All of the energy used in Australia today would be able to be created with the tidal movement of the Kimberley coast. In reaction to this incredible statement by none other than a reputable organisation like the CSIRO, this Howard-led government committed $1 million last year for the study of the hydrogen economy. One of the first moves in this regard will be the convening of a hydrogen conference in Broome in May 2003. This conference will attract some 350 delegates and we trust about 100 international journalists to the region. The significance of this conference is that it will bring to one spot speakers well informed in aspects of the hydrogen economy.

For those of you not aware, hydrogen is considered by the automotive industry to be the future energy source for mobility. Many of you would be aware of the disastrous reputation of cities like Los Angeles for having a level of pollution that is at times simply unbearable. The combination of a forward thinking automobile industry, the deployment of fuel cells as opposed to internal combustion engines and the use of hydrogen produced from a clean renewable source through those fuel cells would produce mobility in cities from vehicles like cars where the only by-product of that process would be H20 in liquid form—no more carbon dioxide, no more carbon monoxide, no more carbon particles in the atmosphere. This would be an incredible breakthrough. The convening of this conference in Broome in May next year will give Australians the opportunity to visit, interact and understand the fact that hydrogen is the energy source of the future. Australia needs to be well up to speed on what is happening in that area. The conference will bring together keynote speakers from across the world.

The technology exists already to utilise hydrogen in many forms. I have seen—with my own eyes, as they say—laptop computers powered up with 27 hours of energy, using hydrogen and fuel cells. I have seen refrigerator sized units producing five kilowatts of electricity and five kilowatts of heating simply tapping into a supply of domestic gas and extracting the hydrogen from it—doing away forever with the necessity to build power stations and electrical grids. The technology exists, but we have to develop it further.

I return to the legislation we are addressing. The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 will give a firm foundation for Australia and its states and territories to build a viable future of renewable energy resource industries. The amendments not only clarify the act but the regulations ensure that accredited power stations conduct their operations in the spirit of the act or face possible suspension of their accreditation by the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator. I am pleased to note that these amendments will bring the act into line with similar Commonwealth legislation. I commend this bill to the House.