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Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Page: 11990


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) (9:15 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia faces a key challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while ensuring energy security. This government is committed to implementing a comprehensive response to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with technology playing a vital role.

The Australian government believes that the development of affordable and efficient low-emission and renewable energy technologies is crucial to addressing this challenge. It is important that a sensible approach is taken to the development of these technologies; there is no simple, ‘one size fits all’ technology that can be applied, either within Australia or globally. The world requires a variety of different clean energy technologies, reflecting different local attributes and circumstances, to draw upon if it is to address this massive challenge.

The government’s efforts to develop these new low-emissions energy technologies are directed towards a few broad areas: energy efficiency, low-emissions coal and renewable energy sources.

Australia is lucky to possess many outstanding renewable energy resources—sun, wind, geothermal, biomass and ocean, just to name a few. While many of these renewable energy sources offer great potential, their reliability must increase and their generation costs must decrease if they are to make a significant contribution to increasing Australian and global energy security. The Australian government is focusing on these issues so that renewable energy sources can play a key role in the Australian and global energy mix.

The Australian government has made an unprecedented commitment to the development of new low-emissions coal and renewable energy technologies. In May this year, the government announced its $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative. The Clean Energy Initiative contains three key elements to support the research, development and demonstration of low-emission and renewable energy technologies, being:

  • firstly, the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships Program, involving funding to support the construction and demonstration of large-scale integrated carbon capture and storage projects in Australia;
  • secondly, the Solar Flagships Program, involving funding to support the construction and demonstration of large-scale solar power stations in Australia; and
  • thirdly, the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, or ACRE.

These initiatives, along with others already underway, will create a world-class portfolio of Australian clean energy technology projects.

The Clean Energy Initiative will complement the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and expanded renewable energy target, which will deliver 20 per cent renewable energy generated by 2020. The expanded renewable energy target provides a strong incentive to accelerate the uptake of Australia’s abundant renewable energy sources. However, there are significant technical and commercial issues facing the renewable energy industry that cannot be solved by the operation of the expanded renewable energy target alone. These issues require a complementary effort to develop promising renewable energy and enabling technologies to a point where they can be competitive with existing energy technologies.

It is here that ACRE fills the gap. It provides an injection of funds to help develop and commercialise emerging renewable and enabling energy technologies.

Australian government support for renewable energy technologies has not been well coordinated, as it has historically been delivered across a range of agencies. This fragmented approach has the potential to confuse industry stakeholders and lead to inefficiencies in delivery.

It is clear that there needs to be more done in a coordinated focus on renewable energy technology support. That is why the government is establishing ACRE as the national renewable energy technology body.

ACRE’s objectives will be to promote the development, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and enabling technologies and to improve their competitiveness. It will achieve this by:

(a)    developing and implementing a funding strategy capable of supporting projects along the innovation chain;

(b)    encouraging additional investments, including investments from the private sector and state and territory governments;

(c)    managing the cost effective delivery of government-funded renewable energy and enabling technology programs;

(d)    providing support and advice to governments, industry and the community on renewable energy and enabling technologies, strategies and related issues when requested;

(e)    fostering collaboration between governments, industry and the research community on renewable energy projects;

(f)     supporting growth in skills and capacity in renewable technologies for the domestic and international markets; and

(g)    any other activities that it is directed to undertake by the government to support renewable energy and enabling technologies.

ACRE will be a one-stop shop for Australian renewable energy businesses, drawing together more than $560 million of renewable energy investment. ACRE will also have money for new initiatives, including funds that were allocated to the formerly envisaged Clean Energy Program. The focus for new investments will be on the development, commercialisation and deployment of promising renewable energy and enabling technologies to help improve their competitiveness in the market.

In terms of existing renewable energy technology programs, ACRE will consolidate the following:

  • the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program;
  • the $15 million Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program;
  • the $50 million Geothermal Drilling Program;
  • the $20 million Advanced Electricity Storage Technologies program;
  • the $14 million Wind Energy Forecasting Capability program; and
  • finally, the $18 million Renewable Energy Equity Fund.

This consolidation of Australian government renewable energy and enabling technology programs has many advantages, including:

  • firstly, it will benefit stakeholders such as researchers and industry as there will now be one central point of government contact for renewable energy technology development;
  • secondly, it will also allow for better tracking and benchmarking of outcomes; and
  • thirdly, it will centralise information on support for renewable energy technologies.

ACRE will consist of three important elements:

  • an independent advisory board, which will provide expert advice to the government;
  • staff from my department who will support the board; and
  • a chief executive officer (CEO) who will report to the secretary of my department and who will be an ex-officio member of the board.

The bill I am introducing today establishes the ACRE board and the position of CEO.

The membership of the board will draw upon the significant talent we already have in the Australian industry and research community. It is critical that the board employs a wide variety of expertise to maximise the return on the government’s investment in these key energy technologies.

The key job of the board will be to advise the government about how to best support the development of renewable energy and enabling technologies along the innovation chain.

I will be appointing up to six non-executive members to the board, plus a non-executive chair. Members will be chosen for their high-level skills in areas such as research, venture capital, intellectual property, commercialisation and other fields relevant to the board’s functions. They will then bring their knowledge and experience forward in advising the government. The term of appointment will not exceed two years.

As I mentioned earlier, ACRE’s objective is to promote renewable energy and enabling technologies and to improve their competitiveness in Australia. The board will help to achieve this objective by advising the government on:

  • firstly, strategies to fund and promote renewable energy technologies;
  • secondly, funding of promising projects and measures;
  • thirdly, management of programs and the improvement of existing program delivery;
  • fourthly, provision of venture capital funding; and,
  • finally, priority areas for government support.

In relation to advising on the funding of renewable energy and enabling technology projects and measures, the board will first apply its expertise in assessing projects and measures which have been referred to it for consideration by government.

I will be asking the board to take an innovative approach in providing advice on the design of these strategies and their underpinning programs to ensure that we get the most out of the investments that the government makes over the next few years.

The board will also establish links with state and territory government agencies and the private sector with a view to developing strategies for stimulating investment in renewable energy technologies. This is a real opportunity for state and territory governments and the business community to join with the Australian government in a common goal.

I expect that the board will manage its affairs in a manner reflecting the highest standards of probity and the highest ethical standards and governance practices. The legislation includes provisions to help achieve these standards.

The bill also establishes the position of the chief executive officer, who will be recruited to round out the leadership team for ACRE. The chief executive officer will be an ex-officio member of the board and will run ACRE on a day-to-day basis. This person will have an understanding of the issues facing the industry and very strong stakeholder management skills.

In summary, the establishment of ACRE is a significant step forward in the development of affordable and efficient renewable energy and enabling technologies. If Australia is to play its part in addressing the global challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while increasing energy security, it will need to make a significant contribution to the development of a suite of viable renewable energy technologies. ACRE will be central to this contribution.

I commend the bill to the House. I express my appreciation to all the departmental staff who were involved in the preparation of this bill at short notice.

Debate (on motion by Mr Haase) adjourned.