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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4242

Ms RISHWORTH (6:22 PM) —I am very pleased to rise today in support of the government’s Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2010 and the cognate bills. The changes included in this bill will accelerate investment in renewable energy projects, many of which languished during the years of the Howard government and were never realised. But the Rudd government is committed to this nation’s future, hence the bill before the House today. The people of Australia want to see an increase in the use of renewable energy. The people in my electorate want to ensure that Australia is an advanced, prosperous and environmentally conscientious nation, and so I am very pleased, once again, to see the Rudd government delivering on its clear commitment to addressing the issue of renewable energy.

I come from the state of South Australia, which has had a very big take-up of renewable energy. South Australia produces 56 per cent of the nation’s generated wind power and has the highest incidence of residential grid connected solar systems in Australia, accounting for around 25 per cent of Australia’s residential grid connected solar capacity. We have also seen huge investment and a huge interest in the area of geothermal energy in South Australia. We have seen many residents, companies and community groups who are interested in renewable energy and who want to help make a difference. By investing in renewable energy, they have seen their energy costs decrease and they have been actively pleased to reduce their carbon footprint.

Earlier today I was talking about the commitment from the Seaford Meadows Scout Group, who have been on a campaign to talk to the community about the importance of solar power and the benefits it has had for their small part of the world. We know that communities around the country have embraced renewable energy and that they expect their governments to do the same, to do all they can to encourage renewable energy. The Rudd government has already dramatically expanded the renewable energy target to 20 per cent. That was a commitment that we gave in opposition and a commitment that we have now delivered on. So, by 2020, the equivalent of all household electricity will come from clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

The bill before us today seeks to separate the Renewable Energy Target Scheme into two parts, the large-scale renewable energy target and the small-scale renewable energy target, creating separate obligations for liable entities. It will retain the renewable energy target; however, it will limit its scope to large-scale generation. It will introduce large-scale generation certificates and small-scale technology certificates. These changes will provide greater certainty for all Australians. The changes to the Renewable Energy Target Scheme will support an increase in a range of technologies, such as solar, wind and geothermal. This is renewable energy for the future. The bill strengthens the Rudd government’s commitment that at least 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020.

We know that there is significant private investment ready to be unleashed. While estimates have varied, the investment has been estimated by a number of commentators to be around $20 million. Such an investment in the area of renewable energy will create jobs and train a green workforce for the future. So there are a lot of positive things about this investment, not to mention the huge, positive impact it will have on reducing our carbon emissions.

The Rudd government are committed to renewable energy, and that is why we have already committed to and introduced a range of programs—programs that are already running that have been incredibly successful. We have introduced the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, which is aimed at creating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This program provides rebates for renewable energy systems for people in off-the-grid areas and goes a long way towards minimising their reliance on fossil fuels. In my electorate alone, there are six systems that have been installed to ensure people are getting good renewable energy sources.

Under the National Solar Schools Program, grants worth more than $140 million have been approved, assisting over 2,500 schools. This is practical action to help combat climate change but it is also helping schools out with costly electricity bills. In my own electorate, many schools have benefited from this initiative, including Moana Primary School, Seaford K-7 School, Seaford Rise Primary School, Coorara Primary School, Hackham East Primary School, Hallett Cove South Primary School, Lonsdale Heights Primary School, McLaren Vale Primary School, O’Sullivan Beach Primary School, Woodend Primary School and Willunga Primary School. All of them have received up to $50,000 to support their uptake of solar panels.

I know that schools have certainly welcomed this. A lot of teachers and others commented on the fact that the previous government had a scheme for solar energy for schools, but it was only for solar hot water systems. Unfortunately, as the schools told me, they did not use a lot of hot water at school. They made cups of tea and a few other bits and pieces, but it was not saving them huge amounts of money on their energy costs. The Solar Schools Program will allow them to use the funds to generate energy in their schools—obviously, lights, computers and a whole range of things take up a lot more energy. With our program they will be able to make sure that the energy they use is renewable and that they can return power that they are not using back to the grid.

Under the Solar Credits scheme, the Rudd government has provided support for homeowners to install small-scale solar power systems. In my electorate alone, over 1,407 householders have benefited from this program and close to $1,100,000 has actually been spent just in Kingston. This is a significant program and it has made a real difference to many people. I was out doorknocking at the weekend in Woodcroft and I spoke to a number of people in the street. Many of them had taken up and benefited from this program. Others had just put in for the program. They were seeing on their quarterly bill some real improvement, and they were very grateful for that.

Getting back to the bills: the changes in these bills will enhance the renewable energy target by providing greater certainty as to the support provided by the RET for households, large-scale energy projects and installers of small-scale systems like solar hot water. We have already heard from the Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia, who is in the chamber now, that renewable energy systems will underpin our economic prosperity and drive our economy into the future. I could not agree with him more. The government is delivering on its commitment to provide strong and viable action on climate change. This is a practical change, a legislative evolution, that will have a positive impact on business—big and small alike—while also affecting the end consumer. Many mums and dads are also interested in securing a good and positive environment for their children’s future.

The large-scale renewable energy target will encourage the deployment of large-scale power generation from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The legislation before us provides further encouragement for companies to invest in renewable energy. The bills before us today create large-scale generation certificates, distinct from the small-scale technology system. They retain the concept of a renewable energy target but only for the large-scale power generators. These certificates will relate to energy generated by accredited power stations.

The benefits of the new LRET and SRES are already emerging. Within days of the government announcing this enhancement of the RET, AGL announced that it had entered into agreement for the construction of the 365-megawatt capacity Macarthur wind farm in south-west Victoria. This highlights a stark contrast between the current government and the former Liberal government, which not only failed to attract investment in renewable energy but effectively sent investment offshore. Companies such as Suntech, one of the world’s top 10 manufacturers of solar PV cells, had to set up their manufacturing facilities in China because of the lack of government incentive offered by the Liberals when they were in office. This was not isolated. It has happened time and time again. In 2006, a $750 million wind development by the company Roaring40s was stalled due to the Howard government’s failure to take action and increase the RET. In February 2007, Pacific Hydro announced it would invest $500 million in Brazil because investment in Australia was undermined by the Howard government’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol. These examples show not only that the Liberal Party has a blase approach to environmental energy production but its complete lack of interest in working Australians. Such investment would have created jobs for Australians and put money back into communities.

We also have before us the small-scale renewable energy scheme, which will provide continued support to households, small business and community groups that install renewable systems into their homes or places of business. The bills create small-scale technology certificates, which relate to the installation of renewable energy and small-generation units. There will be no overall limit on the creation of these certificates, and the price will be fixed at $40. For small-scale technology, liable entities must surrender all small-scale technology certificates created in a year. Small-scale certificates will be created as per the current process and administered by the regulator. The proposed system provides certainty for small-scale technology entities, though the actual liability of such entities will not be known until the total number of certificates required is identified.

The bills require that the regulator provide each liable entity with a quarterly estimate of the number of small-scale technology certificates that it will be required to surrender. The rate of clearance of certificates has been problematic under the current system. This is addressed by empowering the regulator to establish a clearing house for small-scale technology certificates. The clearing house will act as a central point for the transfer of these certificates at a set price of $40 per certificate. It is a requirement of these bills that certificates be surrendered quarterly to encourage Australians to take action on climate change. This change will encourage families and small business owners to take on renewable energy. This is an important aspect of this government initiative. It is important that we encourage the bigger end of town to move towards renewable energy, but we also cannot forget the many community members and families that are very keen to embrace renewable energy. These bills encourage this uptake.

The bills before us today are part of a suite of government policies that will encourage a switch to renewable energy. This switch is essential for the ongoing energy security of Australia. For the consumer, the cost to the end user will be minimal. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency estimates that the enhanced RET system will add less than $4 a year to the average household bill. This is a cost-effective change—a small-cost change—that will go a long way to ensuring our environmental security for Australia. Combined, the SRES and the LRET are expected to deliver more renewable energy than the existing legislation. This highlights the effectiveness of the scheme and its importance for our future.

As I said, the government not only is committed to the renewable energy target but has made significant investments through the $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative. These include the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program to support the construction of large-scale, grid-connected solar power stations.

As announced in the budget two weeks ago, the government will provide $652 million to establish a Renewable Energy Future Fund to support Australia’s transition to a low pollution economy prior to the commencement of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. This fund, together with other initiatives, will expand the Clean Energy Initiative to $5.1 billion. It was very disappointing to hear the shadow minister for finance say in his reply to the budget speech that this future fund would be cut. It was very disappointing to hear that; however, it was not surprising and probably represents the coalition’s lack of interest in renewable energy.

It is time that Australia took advantage of its renewable resources. We have sun, wind and the potential of geothermal technology. We have a lot of natural renewable resources. It is very important that we invest in them to ensure the provision of cleaner energy and a cleaner future for all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.