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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 10242

Mr HATTON (1:01 PM) —I rise to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002. My colleague the member for Oxley regards the proposition that the government will sign on the dotted line of the Kyoto protocol as being a very big call. I would think that would be the case as well, because we know just how tardy this government has been when it has come to the question of signing up to the Kyoto protocol, which most of the responsible nations in the world have done, save of course for the United States—the sheriff says to the deputy sheriff, `We'll lead; you follow.' It is yet another example of core decisions being taken in the White House and in the US Congress, and Australia following.

What is the line that we can draw between them? There is an argument that the US has a better understanding of this, because it has stood outside the proven science—or what those other countries that have signed up to the Kyoto protocol would argue and this opposition would argue are relatively reasonable levels of CO2 emissions related to the greenhouse effect. It is not too difficult to understand the fundamental science. There has been a series of key questions about the rapidity of the impacts of that; there has been a series of key questions about how governments should properly react to the challenge faced by the greenhouse effects from CO2, methane and other emissions.

There have also been some serious questions in that context from a number of scientists, the most noteworthy in Australia being Professor Ian Plimer. He has done so in his most recent book entitled A Short History About Planet Earth. It is short, it is a history and it is about planet earth, and it contains a series of arguments about the science of the greenhouse effect. He has some demurrers. The essential one argues that, if you are going to look at this contextually, the context is not simply from the start of the Industrial Revolution, from the great changeover from the agricultural era, running through to the end of the Middle Ages and into the great mercantile period, when the Portuguese and the Spanish ruled this planet; but you move forward further, past the age of the Dutch navigators and on to the United Kingdom and the laying down of the fundamentals of the modern industrialised state.

We know that during that period the pollution created in England was massive. We know what environmental degradation was done in the Soviet bloc, all of the Eastern bloc and in communist China. We know about the vast pollution of the atmosphere that occurred. We know about the problems caused by acid and sulfurous rain and by inappropriate practices. We know about the vast amounts of money, the rivers of money, that need to be poured into reclaiming the environmental capacity of the Eastern bloc.

We also know that a lot of the developing countries during the 70 years that the communists ran the Soviet bloc went down the communist road not because they wanted what communism was essentially offering ideologically but because they wanted the fast development that had happened in Russia. The key beacon for them was that industrialisation could be compressed into a very short period of time. Whatever cost that had on the environment was not a cost of concern to Soviet Russia; it was not a cost of concern to anyone in the Eastern bloc. The world will pay the cost of that damage and ravage.

We know that there has been an attempt in the West, particularly over the last two decades plus, to claw back the environmental damage and ravage that has been done to a whole range of things. Under Bob Carr's state Labor government there has been the clean-up of the Parramatta River and of Sydney Harbour. There is concerted action at state level by Labor governments, with New South Wales taking the lead, to reclaim our environmental heritage, to make this a cleaner and better place and to ensure through the clean air act that more will be done.

We saw similar action from the former federal Labor government when it took the leading part in addressing some of the fundamental problems of air pollution and other difficulties created by industrialisation. One of those problems has come to pass already. No-one could have expected to totally believe our scientific advisers when they said that, if you take specific action in relation to chlorofluorocarbons, you can within a period of 20 to 30 years fundamentally change the damaging impact on the ozone layer and our atmosphere through what is being generated out of our refrigerators and from the propellants used for aerosols and so on. They said that you can do something real. Under Labor, Australia helped to lead the charge to clean up CFCs. A report earlier this year or late last year indicated that most of the work done in that area had been done successfully. But you need a larger ambit. This bill in its intention, schedules and explanatory memorandum is essentially one of cleaning up; it is essentially administrative. It is not the most sparkling or the most riveting piece of legislation, but you take whatever cloth is there and reshape it in a certain way.

I note the importance of a number of matters that the bill deals with in regard to the accreditation of power stations in terms of their eligible renewable energy baseline. What the regulator does and how the regulator goes about finding information is similar to some other regulators at the moment seeking identifiable information about whether certain things are happening or not happening in a country far away from us. If you have a clear understanding of how the industry runs, you can readily identify where there are problems and where people are walking around the renewable energy aspects of the bills which have already been put through this House. In relation to the bottom line provision that in future we would commit to at least two per cent of our electricity coming from renewables, we know that we can do more. We know that in the state of New South Wales some people have voluntarily signed up to accessing green electricity at a higher cost to themselves. We also know that the person who has run that campaign and who has briefed our caucus committee about two parliaments ago is an extremely able person. He came from the United States and is now an Australian citizen. That campaign has worked very well, because the state Labor government did with that issue what we did in government. We did two things: firstly, we looked towards people's altruism, their sense that they could in fact act against their own interest for the greater and better interests of both the environment and the nation; and, secondly, that there is a larger cause than simply us as individuals, and that in combination with others or as a community we can act together to really achieve significant things.

In the second reading speech there was a question of what is an eligible renewable energy source, what is an accredited power station and what is a relevant acquisition of electricity. The question of eligibility for renewable energy sources is extremely important. Here, I align myself with a speech made by the member for Bonython, who laid out in his consideration of this legislation some of the ramifications of not just what is happening now but running through to the future. The second reading speech went to this key question:

With the renewable energy target ramping up sharply in the coming years, it is highly likely that there will be considerable growth in the number of accredited power stations and the amount of renewable energy certificates that will be traded or acquitted.

Within the context of renewable energy, one of the key issues is biomass. The argument is that, whatever the biomass, you could create industries in regional Australia—and it would be a question of creating an industry if you went down this track—based on biomass. That biomass could be a proportion of what is on the forest floor, plantation timber cut for a particular purpose or simply crops grown to greater effect, probably more readily and with a much quicker life cycle than trees. Although growing a biomass and then burning it might be described by some as mediaeval in approach—in fact, the member for Bonython argued that this could just be creating an incinerator industry in Australia—a number of people, particularly a senior expert in the Hunter, have argued that there are significant employment and regional benefits in going down this track. These possibilities need to be looked at extremely carefully.

There are other sources of renewable energy. We know what has happened with the funding for solar power panels. As for wind power generation, the member for Bonython put forward a significant argument. While the Dutch were great navigators in the 15th century, at home they had problems with not only their dikes but also their agricultural industry. They came up with a fabulous invention, the windmill, which worked extremely successfully. It has been tarted up a bit since the 15th century, but its fundamentals are the same. What has been found, not only in Holland but also in the United States, Germany and indeed here, is that the early windmills (1) were not particularly good, (2) did not generate particularly good power, and (3) had significant mechanical problems, which meant that they had to be replaced. The windmills used in Australia were in fact provided by multinationals, so they did not have any Australian components, let alone any Australian involvement.

One of the issues the CSIRO is currently looking at is that if you do not put these things in the right place they are not going to work anyway. Southern California is in desperate straits because they did not put in power stations. They did not build new coal-fired power stations or provide hydroelectricity, as they did further up the Colorado River. They did not provide for southern California's future power demands—which of course would have been a bit hard to predict, because the growth in demand has been explosive. You can see their fundamental mistake if you drive through southern California, through Orange County or on the way up to Colorado or Nevada: you drive through vast fields of extremely large windmills. I think most of them are the earlier types, not the more streamlined ones that are now being presented in Australia. It was a fundamental mistake because wind generation cannot provide base load power. It does not matter that you have the science right in terms of how many windmills you have or where you put them; it is impossible.

In Tasmania, renewable energy considerations include the question of whether hydro is a part of that and whether you can in fact link hydro with wind power. There is a series of projects dealing with the possibility that this integration could actually work well. That is for the scientists, researchers and the people practically using this to push forward with.

There is a whole other area which is alluded to in the quite practical measures taken in this bill—you just rearrange things so that you can review things better and so that you can see whether things are working—that is, not only the core question of how the renewables are operating within our power stations but also the related question of just how well our power stations are functioning. No-one is going to get away from the fact that, if you are looking at baseload power generation in Australia over the next 10, 20 or 30 years, whether it be in the Hunter or elsewhere, you are going to be up against coal power stations or coal power stations to which we have added because of Labor initiatives. Labor in government targeted the one big new energy source that was important for Australia. Labor in government understood that the development of the North West Shelf was important for us in terms of the liquid natural gas that we could pump out to Japan and the rest of the world. Labor understood that, given our problems with other sources of petroleum products in Australia, the development of natural gas was fundamental and that the natural gas pipelines and fields that had been developed onshore in Australia had to be augmented. Labor policy is looking to the future of where that can continue to be augmented and how you can use gas firing—either gas fired full natural gas power stations, gas assisted or turbo charged coal power stations—to more effect.

We know that some of our power stations could be rebuilt at great cost, because significant technical work has been done in the United Kingdom on the way in which the generators in the power stations are burning coal and how they could be used more effectively. The baseline in that scientific data is that if you run those power stations, if you run a coal-fired installation at 700 to 1000°C at a much higher level than we do currently, you get a much cleaner burn in the coal, fewer sulfurous and other emissions and less CO2.

It is a big proposition as to how much you take that on board here. When that was first advanced a couple of years ago, I think, on the Science Show by Robyn Williams, the investigations he did indicated that we could just take that technology or go down our own paths with our own power stations to look at whether or not that could work. Simply retro-fitting is very expensive and developing it further is expensive but, in terms of utilising more effectively the resources that we have, we go back to the core of what the member for Bonython was talking about. Is this about renewable energy and the use of renewable energy concerned with the creation of new industries in Australia and the support of those new industries, some of which are based almost fully on multinationals, others of which are based, we know, sometimes, on friends of friends? We have had a few examples of that with this coalition government; we certainly have had that with regard to Manildra and what is happening with ethanol. We also understand that the possibilities here are really about creating more jobs rather than solving the key problem of the greenhouse effect and whether the greenhouse effect can be ameliorated by cutting the emissions of CO2. How would you more effectively do that?

The member for Bonython mentioned the significant CSIRO work on clean coal at North Ryde—and I have been to see it. What they have achieved is important, but they are some way from their final point. That final point is to achieve a clean burning coal where sulfurous and CO2 emissions would be dramatically reduced. Our coal industry is important to Australia domestically in terms of our coal-fired power stations and is dramatically important to us in terms of our exports. It is not just clean coal that the CSIRO is working on; it is the different types of material that we are using. Whether it be Victorian brown coal or black anthracites that are being used in other power stations, if you want to reduce greenhouse gases it is fundamentally important to improve the technology and continue to work on it so that our current baseload power stations that are coal fired or coal fired with the assistance of gas firing—which helps to raise the temperature and therefore get a better and more efficient burn and a better use of what we are using—have reductions in CO2 emissions.

The key problem of CO2 is how you grab it, trap it and then do something with it. Given all the problems we have had in the past with solving some of this, there might finally be a use for Synroc—apart from talking about how useful it might be! That is said laughingly and ironically, I know, because you would not be trapping CO2 in it; you might be trapping enriched uranium in it or other nuclear waste, but we haven't even done that. But there are mechanisms that have been looked at and will need to be further looked at for trapping either methane or CO2 and then reinjecting it. One mechanism, in fact, is to do it in situ. There has been a new petroleum find at Woodside, 40 kilometres or so off the Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth, which may go ahead in 2006. They are proposing to do three fields by ship anchored at the site and, at the cost of an extra $100 million, to take the CO2 and reinject it in situ so it does not cause a problem in the first place. That is the sort of thing we need to do with our coal-fired power stations, because the energy we are going to use will not all be renewable and we will need to ensure the clean and efficient use of the energy sources which will continue to dominate.

Debate (on motion by Mrs May) adjourned.

Main Committee adjourned at 1.22 p.m.