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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7998

Ms LIVERMORE (4:40 PM) —In rising to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the related bill, I note that you, Mr Deputy Speaker Thomson, have been a true champion of renewable energy in this House for many, many years, so it is very fitting that you should be in the chair for at least part of the debate.

These bills are an expansion of the existing Renewable Energy Target scheme, but to say that it is an expansion does not really capture the scale of the shift that it represents in terms of the investment in and uptake of energy from renewable resources. Yes, it essentially builds on the scheme introduced by the previous government, but no-one should be fooled by the opportunistic and very recent embrace of renewable energy by the opposition. Opposition speakers are trying to create the impression that these bills are merely an incremental change that their scheme was working its way towards. In fact, this legislation is a very significant new signal to business and the community that we are serious about unlocking the huge potential for renewable energy in this country after years of tokenism by the coalition, years in which the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources fell.

The changes in these bills will increase the existing mandatory renewable energy target by more than four times to 45,000 gigawatt hours in 2020 and contribute to meeting Australia’s targets for the reduction of greenhouse emissions. The bills will provide a market incentive to accelerate take-up of Australia’s abundant renewable energy resources, such as sunlight, wind energy and many others, including, in my own electorate, biomass. The changes in the bills will also reduce red tape by bringing state based targets into a single national scheme.

Other speakers in the debate have talked about the benefits of increasing our reliance on renewable sources of energy, the jobs that will be created and the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that will be achieved. They have also outlined the unprecedented levels of support from this government for research into renewable energy and its commercialisation and deployment.

In the time that I have I will confine my remarks in support of the bills to two points relevant to my electorate in Central Queensland. The first one relates to an exciting initiative being undertaken by Mackay Sugar Ltd, a sugar-milling company in my electorate that has gotten out ahead of the game and is ready to generate green electricity using the gas which is a waste product from the sugar-milling process. There are roughly 950 cane farmers in the Mackay region, and I am sure most of them would be quick to point out the massive energy potential of the crops in their paddocks. That is how the farmers of the future are starting to think of themselves, as producers of energy, and Mackay Sugar is certainly thinking of the industry in that regard as well. Mackay Sugar is well advanced with its plans to build a major cogeneration plant at the Racecourse sugar mill. The 36-megawatt cogeneration project will export 28 megawatts into the grid year-round, supplying 30 per cent of Mackay’s electricity needs. We are talking about a $100 million investment that will abate about 340,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.

The passage of this legislation is critical for the Mackay Sugar project, and such a project is a win for the company, a win for cane farmers and a win for the Australian community. It will help establish for Mackay Sugar and growers a steady, domestically sourced income stream that is not subject to the turmoil and ups and downs familiar in the world sugar market. It is the kind of diversification that will keep these sugar producers in the game. This project and so many other, similar projects across the country is what the mandatory renewable energy target and these bills increasing that target are all about. They will create jobs, drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. It is also important to note that it is an investment in renewables and the future of the sugar industry in the Mackay region that was not possible under the previous government, the same people who come in here today to lecture us about renewable energy.

Here is a snapshot of what the previous government did to investment in renewable energy. It comes in this quote from the Chairman of Mackay Sugar, Mr Eddie Westcott:

Significant investment has been made in this project since the introduction of the 2% MRET in 2001 but unfortunately the project was shelved in 2006 when the renewable market collapsed due to surplus capacity—

in other words, failure to support the industry through a high enough MRET. In contrast, Eddie Westcott concludes his letter by saying that if the legislation is passed Mackay Sugar’s project will go to tender next week. I will leave that for the coalition members, awaiting the support of their Senate colleagues, to ponder as the legislation goes into the Senate tomorrow. Eddie Westcott has been the champion of this project, and I appreciate the time he has taken to keep my ministerial colleagues, the Deputy Speaker and me informed of its potential and its progress at every stage. I know he would have liked the legislation to pass before this time. He has been incredibly patient. All of us on this side of the House are with Eddie in hoping that we are just days away from it becoming a reality.

The other point I wish to raise relates to the treatment of waste coalmine gas under this renewable energy target legislation. Members would be aware of the extensive coalmining operations in my electorate and, indeed, throughout Central Queensland. In recent years, a complementary industry has developed using the waste coalmine methane gas to generate electricity. Two companies, Energy Developments Limited and Envirogen, established plants in my electorate and have been able to take advantage of the GGAS incentives of the New South Wales government to underpin the viability of the projects. For many months I have been talking to representatives from both EDL and Envirogen about the threat posed to their waste coalmine methane generation activities due to the CPRS closing down the New South Wales GGAS. Both companies currently earn a large proportion of their revenue from generating and selling abatement certificates under the New South Wales scheme.

I want to see a way found to overcome the problem presented by the phasing out of GGAS. The companies operating in my electorate have put forward some proposals to amend this legislation in a way that will allow them to receive renewable energy certificates for energy generated from waste coalmine methane, thus replacing the revenue lost from the phase-out of GGAS. I have had extensive discussions with the Minister for Climate Change and Water, asking her to consider those proposals to include waste coalmine methane in the renewable energy target. We need to ensure that these companies can continue to generate low-emission electricity and provide employment in my electorate. Just as it was on the CPRS, the minister’s door has always been open on this issue and she has been willing to listen to my arguments on behalf of Envirogen and EDL.

These bills can unlock the enormous potential for renewable energy in Australia, which means jobs in new industries, significant numbers of which will be in regional and rural areas like Central Queensland. I look forward to their quick passage through the Senate so that industry has the certainty it needs to take the renewables sector forward to what is undoubtedly a bright future. It is an industry that will play a big role in the future of our country.