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Shadow Minister discusses solar power project in northern Victoria.



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702 MORNINGS

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

 

 

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: As you’ve been hearing, Australia might soon be home to one of the world’s biggest solar power plants—that’s going to be a plan brought together by state and federal governments to help fund a vast farm of solar panels in northern Victoria. It’s a rather sad reality, I guess. The flip side of the drought: lots of sun, not so many rain clouds so, therefore, at least we can use those hot, long, dry days to our advantage.

 

Martin Ferguson is joining us now—the Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Forestry, Resources and Tourism. Martin Ferguson, good morning.

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Good morning, Virginia.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Are you behind this proposal?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: If anything, we believe finally the Prime Minister has decided to follow the lead of the Labor Party. The Victorian Labor government wants this style of development but has also made priorities, again, to cleaning up our own coal because that’s the baseload capacity that Australia depends on.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So a solar panel plant will, in your view, only ever be secondary to coal?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Renewables are exceptionally important when solar geothermal but the truth of the matter is that Australia is going to largely be dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. That effectively means baseload largely being coal-fired power stations but also an important role for gas, especially in a peaking capacity.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, it would seem that the government’s stolen the march on that as well because, according to the Australian today, a coal-drying project in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria is also going to be announced today, which will mean that when brown coal is used for carbon production it’s done so more cleanly.

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Done in partnership with the Labor Party, via the Victorian Labor government. At least we are finally making some progress. We act on the issue of energy and obviously with heavy reliance on coal, especially the difficulties of brown coal in Victoria, you have to invest in clean-coal technology and the initiative today, a joint initiative of Victorian Labor and the Howard government, is about trying to finally make some progress.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Are the predictions accurate about when, in your view, we are going to start running out of power when demand will outstrip supply?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: That is not just in Australia but internationally it is expected to for example that demand for energy is going to double or triple over the next 50 years. Just take Sydney, an international city; have problems of everyone wanting a reverse-cycle airconditioner. You take 40 per cent of the new migrants that come to Australia, there is a huge demand on energy in Australia. That effectively means that in the next 18 months to two years, we are going to have to make further baseload energy decisions. Everyone knows that. The New South Wales government, correctly—it was one of the last announcements of Bob Carr, the outgoing premier—made two key decisions: going to peak-load capacity such as the gas power station in the Illawarra. They are the right decisions. But we have peak-load decisions looming up with the nation that involve the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments to resolve those issues in the next 18 months to two years.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: When we build these new plants, such as the solar plant that is being replaced for northern Victoria and the coal-drying operation also in Victoria, when those come on stream, are we talking here about power that can be fed into a national grid or is it only going to be state specific?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Well, firstly, there is clearly a national grid. The Latrobe Valley, the coal operations, is clearly part of a national grid and that decision is not about additional capacity, it’s actually about cleaning up the existing energy difficulties. Our problem is that in terms of the national grid, we really started working on this about 16 years ago and now serious questions are being raised, not only by state and territory governments and the Commonwealth but also by the Energy Users Association about whether or not more work has to be done.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: [inaudible] exactly on what?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Not only baseload capacity but whether or not we are starting to lose some competition because of a smaller number of participants in the market, the industry [inaudible], and hopefully by Christmas, as a result of the work of the energy members of this forum, a new energy reform implementation group report will be completed, which will lay out a road map of where we have got to go on the next 18 months to two years.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I am trying to work my way through all that, Martin. Are you suggesting here this morning that the national grid is not operating as well as it should? Is that what you are leading to?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: I have no doubt about it. That’s not just my view, it’s the view of a lot of people in the industry.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Can you tell me how it’s failing?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: For example, whether or not baseload energy decisions have been made.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You have to explain what that means. The new listeners aren’t to know what that phrase means.

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: [inaudible] baseload energy is about our fundamental capacity to actually have electricity available. Take New South Wales, I suppose it is fair to say that the last big decisions were made by the Wran Labor government, which has served New South Wales well for the last 15 years. The incoming government in New South Wales, in the next 18 months to two years, will have to make further big decisions going to the energy that we actually rely on for the working of industry, and over and above that, each Christmas, we have peaking capacities which is demand for additional energy because of the use of airconditioners, which goes to the gas-fired Illawarra decision of Bob Carr.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We haven’t of course had all the details and that will happen later this morning. Martin Ferguson is our guest—Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Forestry, Resources and Tourism.

 

Martin Ferguson, based on the figures that we have heard, does this seem like enough money coming from both the states and the Commonwealth to either clean up the operation of brown coal to generated power or to create this new solar plant?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: No, it’s only a start and so the announcements in today’s papers are only in one state. Every state and territory is going to have to be investing in cleaning up our energy. That’s also the responsibility of the private sector. Energy in most states and territories now represents the involvement of the private sector. The coal industry, for example, is going to have to invest in its future—that’s about cleaning up the coal to guarantee our access for electricity in the future. So there’s government money on table today but there is going to have to be more private sector money in the future.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Martin Ferguson [inaudible]. If you’d like to join us, I know we have taken many calls on this over the last few weeks and there has been much discussion about the merits of the downfalls, the exaggerated claims of solar power. I’d love to hear from you. Before we get to the news at 9 o’clock we will try and rip through a few quick calls if you’d like to join us.

 

What then can we expect to hear, Martin Ferguson, from the federal opposition in terms of a policy of this nature? Do you need another strikeout in a slightly different direction? Do you need to be talking about committing more money to such solar plants?

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Not just committing more money, from a government point of view, but also a ratification of Kyoto, which creates a pressure point for the cost of the carbon, forces the private sector to actually invest in solving its problems—and the coal industry is an example. We have every reliance on fossil fuel. We actually invest in clean-coal technology so our approach is, I suppose, it’s not only technology but also the ratification of Kyoto. We regard them as complimentary. The Howard government is refusing to ratify Kyoto.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Thanks for your time today. Thanks very much.

 

MARTIN FERGUSON: Thanks very much, Virginia.

 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Martin Ferguson, Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Forestry, Resources and Tourism.