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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8030

Mr IRONS (7:01 PM) —It was interesting to hear the member for Barker give his contribution. I just had to check my speech, because there were a few similarities there—he and I are on the same wavelength. Today I was reading through a submission made by Ross Macmillan to the WA Greenhouse Task Force back in 2003. In that submission was the statement:

… as long as our primary energy sources are fossil fuel based, all our best efforts to reduce consumption will not deliver a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and will have a negative economic impact.

I could not agree more with this statement. The only way we are going to seriously reduce carbon emissions is by finding alternative energy sources to coal and oil. Looking for efficiencies will only get us so far. It is in this spirit that I rise this evening to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009. I am a keen supporter of renewable energy. I believe in a clean energy economy and I want to see Western Australia as an Australian and a world renewable energy hub. I will declare from the outset that I am a shareholder in the renewable energy industry—because I believe it is the future.

The renewable energy target we are debating today comes from an excellent piece of legislation that has its origins in a speech by John Howard in 1997. It carries the support of just about every member of the House, and I look forward to it being implemented. As environmental legislation usually involves long-term targets, it is imperative that there is broad support from all sides of the chamber. I am of course pleased to see that the government is likely to decouple the bills in the Senate, after calls from every other non-Labor party and most newspapers to do so.

However, let us not look back but forward. The government is likely to decouple the legislation, and the bills are, subject to some amendments articulated by the environment minister, good bills. The legislation is, of course, designed to ensure that electricity retailers and other large electricity buyers are legally required to source a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. The bills set a new renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. The initial Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 legislated for 10 per cent by 2010. In other words, this legislation progressively increases the 9,500 gigawatt hour annual mandatory renewable energy target to 45,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. The scheme works through the generation of renewable energy certificates, or RECs, from renewable energy sources in excess of a 1997 baseline level. One REC equals one megawatt hour of renewable energy power.

At the excellent renewable energy forum held by the coalition environment and water committee last week, Mr Dave Holland of Solar Systems Pty Ltd spoke about how difficult it is for solar companies to get one of only a few government funding contracts. Some companies have given up because of the time and effort required with little chance of success. The solar industry does not need complicated government red tape; it simply needs a little nudge here and a nudge there to become competitive. It is disappointing that there are very few or no solar projects starting up in Australia currently yet hundreds are scheduled for the US, where there is much less red tape.

I support the amendments that the coalition is putting forward on this bill, in particular the amendment to move that a portion of the RET be banded and reserved for emerging renewable technologies such as industrial-scale solar, geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass. Western Australia is full of geothermal potential and—with respect to the member for O’Connor—I can say that I am a strong supporter of geothermal energy as the renewable source of our future power needs. Geothermal energy is the only natural renewable energy source that does not originate in the sun.

I have personally had involvement with geothermal technology since the late eighties or early nineties in my industry, which was the air-conditioning industry. The company I worked for actually tried to introduce geothermal air-conditioning in Australia back in the early nineties. But it was not seen as a competitive alternative. It was very expensive to install, the capital equipment was quite expensive and, at that stage, the costs of energy in Australia were quite low, so it was easier for companies or building owners to find ways other than looking at geothermal technology. So it is great to see that it is coming back into vogue. All we need to do is develop extraction methods that are globally applicable and we will have a virtually unlimited, continuous, reliable, emissions-free energy source available to any nation on earth.

Hot-rock energy is of particular interest to Perth, with the Perth Basin providing a significant resource. The technology works by pumping water deep into the rock for heat transfer. According to the Australian Geothermal Energy Association, approximately five to 15 per cent of the total energy achieved is used to pump this water into the rock. The submission I have been reading estimates that the energy content in one lease is equivalent to 50 billion barrels of oil, about 20 times Australia’s known oil reserves. It also estimates that there is enough thermal energy contained in hot rock at depths of less than five kilometres below the surface in Australia to meet our present energy needs for 7,000 years.

Hopefully, this bill will encourage energy generators to look into this technology in more detail. With the right government investment, Australia could quickly become a world leader in this technology. At the recent coalition renewable energy forum, we heard from the Australian Geothermal Energy Association of the great possibilities of this technology but also of the great capital expense involved in establishing it. Often a proof of concept will cost up to $30 million, yet the government only has $7 million on offer, which again is difficult to get hold of. We can do better than this. In the absence of finance, the geothermal industry in Australia is working with universities. UWA have just been given the rights to start WA’s first geothermal project, which will attempt to harness the geothermal energy below Perth for modern-day energy needs. A geothermal Perth could form the cornerstone of WA’s renewable energy hub.

Geothermal is not Western Australia’s only renewable option. WA is the sunshine capital of Australia. Wind patterns are almost perfect south of Jurien Bay, and the member for O’Connor has spoken at length about the potential of the second most tidal region in the world up in Derby. There are certainly some exciting wave power developments as well, with one company in Western Australia proposing to set up the world’s first baseload wave power electricity generation and desalination plant. It is currently running a pilot program in Fremantle called CETO. Wave energy is a renewable energy resource created by large storms hundreds of kilometres offshore, which generate and transmit huge amounts of energy that travels great distances via swell and mixes with local influences, seas, to arrive at our shores. It is a genuine renewable energy source and distinct from tidal energy. Wave energy is generally considered to be the most concentrated and least variable form of renewable energy. The high power density of wave energy suggests that it has the capacity to become the lowest cost renewable energy source. The World Energy Council has estimated that approximately two terawatts, two million megawatts, which is about double the current world electricity production, could be produced from the oceans via wave power. It is estimated that one million gigawatt hours of wave energy hit Australian shores annually and that 25 per cent of the UK’s current power usage could be supplied by harvesting its wave resource.

In conclusion, I support a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020. This is a positive statement by the whole parliament of a commitment to renewable energy, which would be our focus, and it is certainly mine. I support Western Australia as an Australian and a world renewable energy hub. If our focus as a nation were more towards renewable energy, maybe we would not have to worry about an ETS.