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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4157

Mr TUCKEY (12:21 PM) —The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2010 and cognate bills have a modicum of support from the coalition. If the member for Parramatta would hang around for a minute, though I do not think she is going to, I would tell her a couple of things about Spain. Spain is broke. Spain did get into renewables and there is plenty of evidence to show that renewables have had a detrimental effect on their economy. It is now one of the three countries in the European Union that appears unable to pay its debts. Of course, that is having an effect here in Australia.

The member also said the Europeans were going for solar—and they are. You are the member representing Newcastle?

Ms Owens —No.

Mr TUCKEY —I have got the areas in your electorate wrong; there has been so much shifting around of boundaries. It so happens that in Newcastle the CSIRO is conducting some very interesting solar technology experiments. The Europeans are now going to North Africa to generate their solar energy. This makes another point about over-investment in photovoltaics in Melbourne or in Tasmania: the Europeans are going to where it is hot. They are talking about gigawatts of generation—and I will again draw to the attention of the House where the deficiencies reside in this legislation—and they are going to use high-voltage DC transmission technology to get that large quantity of power from the most suitable place back to Europe. That is over 3,000 kilometres. They looked at the options. They looked at our creaky old AC system and discovered that they would lose between 25 and 45 per cent of the power on the trip. They looked—quite interestingly from my perspective—at turning electricity into hydrogen at the point of generation. That was a very good idea but they would lose 75 per cent of the energy on the trip. Then they went to high-voltage DC where they will lose 10 per cent of the power on the trip—three per cent per 1,000 kilometres. That is a doubling of the power that comes out at the end of the pipe, if you like, and a halving of emissions per kilowatt hour where emissions occur.

Nothing in this legislation gives any credit to anyone investing in DC technology, although some have. We have such a line across Bass Strait. We have a line connecting New South Wales with Queensland and another connecting Victoria with South Australia. They were not built for efficiency reasons. The two connections were built because they could be buried and that looked nicer than other circumstances which we so often see when we start to shift AC power around the countryside.

We give Australia as an example as a leader in wind power technology, to which this legislation gives a privileged position, but what are we going to teach the Danes and others about wind generation? A technology that is in its infancy is solar reflector. Trials of this technology are being conducted in the desert. There is still an opportunity with this technology to ‘lead the world’. However, the Chinese are doing a pretty good job of that at the moment with another technology, HVDC. The Europeans also see benefit in HVDC technology. This technology involves converter stations worth $300 million each—and they are pure technology; the other bits are just wires.

A fact of life is that this legislation misses out on the emerging technologies. It makes no special arrangements for them. When the original 20 per cent RET was brought to this House some negotiations were concluded between the government and the opposition, yet the one provision the government refused to accept was that of emerging technologies. The government refused to compartmentalise the situation regarding technologies that might be deemed to be renewable. I went as far—I might add with the approval of my party room, who openly admitted our negotiators could not get the government over the line on such a sensible proposition—as supporting a private member’s bill that still stands in this House. That bill does two things which this legislation should be doing. It restricts any specific technology response to renewables to a percentage of the total available certificates. In other words, nobody can crowd out the marketplace. The government has had a lesson on this. We have a technology which by any measure when properly calculated delivers electricity at 60c a unit. Our economy cannot survive on 60c a unit. If the government pays half the price of the gear then it looks a little better. But if you want to invest your own money on photovoltaics and be paid for the electricity that feeds into the grid—a feed-in tariff—it has to be 60c a unit. That can be reduced if the government gives you an upfront rebate. That is the nature of the efficiency of that technology.

A graph on my website shows that there is barely a population centre in the world that is further than 2,700 kilometres from a desert. The Victorian government is subsidising a firm to build, I think, a 125- or 150-megawatt solar power station near Mildura—that is not a bad idea—and the Commonwealth is putting money into it. The proponents of the station attended a seminar at Parliament House conducted by people like me who are interested to know the realities of these matters on power generation so as not to make silly speeches about it in this place. They said that, if they could shift the plant 50 kilometres further north into New South Wales, they would get 15 per cent more energy for the same money and the same sized equipment. Why isn’t it going there? Because the Victorians are not going to pay to build it in New South Wales. But that is where it should go. If you built it at Marble Bar, which is recognised as the hottest place in Australia, you would get even more for your money.

Where are the best places to build solar facilities? Not on the roofs of the houses of Melbourne. We should not contemplate it, and we further should not contemplate paying a subsidy and a feed-in tariff, as is now occurring; we should have one or the other. The Europeans use a feed-in tariff; up to the present Australia has used both, because the states have one and the Commonwealth has the other—which is another problem with the federation, I guess. The question I am asking is: do we want to consider the serious options? In the minister’s second reading speech to this bill, the best renewable energy available to Australia is not even mentioned, and it has the capacity to replace all of Australia’s energy consumption. It happens to be the tides of the Kimberley. I saw some information the other day that the Koreans are about to commission what will be the largest tidal power station in the world—slightly bigger than the one at Rance in France, which has been operating for 40 years. It will produce about 240 megawatts. In Western Australia, that is a typical coal fired power station in size. When I saw the documentation I was so surprised at the cost that I planned to ask some more questions. It is being built by Daewoo, one of the great construction companies of the world, at a price of $350 million—for 240 megawatts. You cannot build a coal fired power station for that, yet this legislation and the minister’s second reading speech do not even mention it.

Things change. The Kimberley happens to be a great distance from where people presently consume electricity, but, there again, we are going to see in a relatively short period of time large quantities of gas come ashore in the Kimberley, at James Price Point, from the Browse field—that is, of course, if that project does not get written off on account of the government’s new tax on mining and petroleum production, for which the company would have to pay on the new scale, not the old. When that gas comes ashore, someone is going to say, as Rex Connor and others did, ‘Build a gas pipeline across Australia so we can have some of those benefits on the east coast.’ The interesting thing is that the pumping of gas along the existing pipeline from the Pilbara to Perth and to Bunbury, south of Perth, is now emitting 700,000 tonnes of carbon a year. It is consuming the equivalent in energy of one coal fired power station. Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t there be an incentive to build a high-voltage DC line into the Western Australian network to generate the future gas fired power requirements in the Pilbara? You would save hugely on emissions and you would, in fact, save energy. You would have for sale gas that is presently being consumed in pumping gas along this pipeline.

Furthermore, there is a security issue that, as I keep trying to tell my colleagues in Western Australia, is very important. They are now burning gas from that pipeline to produce 60 per cent of Western Australia’s electricity requirement. Just think of what would happen in Western Australia if something went wrong with that pipeline; whereas, if they were bringing in a separate supply on HVDC and the government of today had the intelligence to understand that that is a good investment for the renewable energy target, then there would be more security, a reduction in emissions and a cheaper transmission of energy. Of course, if you then ran similar wires up to Browse to do exactly the same thing and you ran another set of wires from the Western Australian network to interconnect with the Eastern States network, the efficiencies would be unbelievable. You have, by the transmission of electricity, virtually built the pipeline that Rex Connor wanted to build from the Pilbara to Sydney. You have given gas fired, low-emission energy, without the losses associated with pumping the gas, to the people of eastern Australia from places as far away as the Kimberley.

What else have you achieved? You have achieved access to a huge resource—and it is the only predictable resource of a renewable nature in Australia: the tides of the Kimberley. That opportunity is not there at present. Some people would say, ‘How much would it cost to build thousands of kilometres of high-voltage DC transmission lines to reduce the cost of electricity, to improve its efficiency and to reduce emissions?’ It would cost about the same as what the pink batts program will eventually cost—about $5 billion—and it would be done, as I have just described, progressively.

Why is that ignored in this legislation? Is it because the opposition thought of it, or because Wilson Tuckey thought of it and stood up in this place and made the point with a private member’s bill? This legislation has come back to the parliament because it had no influence over individual renewable energy technology. What happened? Photovoltaic energy has crowded out the market and the wind generators have started to squeal. In the present environment, I am not in favour of investment in wind generation because it does not reduce the emissions from coal fired power stations. Any person who is in any way associated with that technology knows that it has the lowest level of responsiveness that you could pick out amongst the various systems. To maintain the power needs of the consumer market, you cannot put faith in wind. You cannot just say, ‘Oops! Chuck another shovel of coal on the fire.’ The decision as to how much power a coal fired power station has to put into the system at five o’clock has to be made at three o’clock. So what do they do? They keep burning the coal, maintaining a surplus of steam pressure in anticipation that maybe, for a nanosecond, the wind will give up.

If anyone wants to argue with me about the vagaries of the wind, I refer them to about 1,000 songs that have compared it to all sorts of other matters. It is a known factor. It is not a good choice. By comparison, tides can be predicted to the minute. You know what you are going to get and, if you have to call on other resources, you know exactly when to do it—by virtually going to the fishing box and looking at the tide flows in different places.

In the Kimberley at this moment, a company has a contract with Argyle Diamonds to provide about 50 megawatts with tidal power in the tidal stream of the Ord River estuary. Do you know why it is delayed? Because, to create baseload power, they are going to build a dam on a 100-metre high hill and, during the peak of the tidal movements, use the surplus energy to pump water up there which they let flow back down through a hydro style system for the purpose of maintaining their baseload. But they have a little problem. To comply with native heritage and other things, and being good corporate citizens, they have gone to the Kimberley Land Council and asked them to conduct the heritage survey, and said they will pay for it. They cannot get it done, so the emissions go on. Argyle Diamonds still keeps producing electricity with diesel generation because a land council will not even take someone’s money to do the job! All these things are silly.

Consequently, the coalition has referred the matter to a Senate committee—and I will be sending them this speech—to make the point that this legislation should read not as an apportioning of entitlement to large and small or whatever; it should simply restrict any technology to 10, 15 or 20 per cent—or whatever the parliament decides—of available certificates. That leaves the door open to emerging technologies mentioned in this paper that will never get to the starting line under the legislation as proposed. Wind has the front-running position. It would be like the Stawell Gift: it has a positive handicap. Of course, the only reason it is in trouble is that, under the old rules, the small-term photovoltaics have had it. But we are just moving from one problem to the next when we should make it clear that at least 50 per cent of the certificates should be for new and emerging technologies, including transmission systems, particularly HVDC, as a renewable power source. If they deliver twice as much electricity at the end of the pipeline, they have doubled the amount of electricity and halved the associated emissions, be it from a coal fired power station or anything else. These are the issues. (Time expired)