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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8034

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (7:19 PM) —I rise this evening to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009. I welcome the government’s commitment, firstly to decouple this bill from the flawed emissions trading scheme legislation and, secondly, to a renewable energy target of 20 per cent of electricity supply by 2020. Of course, it is a long time coming. The Rudd government promised this legislation back in 2007 and now, more than 18 months later, we are finally debating it in this House.

Clean energy can create jobs in rural Australia, and this is no more obvious than in my own electorate of Maranoa. Maranoa has the potential to become one of the nation’s powerhouses for renewable energy. My vast electorate spans an area from Poeppel Corner in the west to about an hour and a half’s drive from Noosa on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland in the east. We are witnessing exciting developments in solar, wind and algal technology in the electorate, and the fledgling but fast and furious development of the Surat coal basin has provided many opportunities for resource companies to implement planet-friendly measures to decrease their carbon footprint. One such exciting opportunity for the resource companies based in Maranoa is the utilisation of algal energy. On the eastern edge of my electorate, at a major coal-fired power station, a leading energy company will be establishing a test plant to convert carbon to energy by using algae. This incredible process involves the capturing of carbon emissions at the base of the emissions chimney before they can be sent out into the atmosphere. The CO2 gases are then transferred to an algal farm, and through the process of photosynthesis the algae will consume the carbon. Amazingly, the algae have the capacity to consume twice their weight in carbon in just 24 hours. At the end of this process, two products are created. One is algal oil, which can be used for plastics, biodiesel or fuel such as jet fuel. The other product is an edible algal product or meal, which can be used as feedstock, fertiliser or biomass for electricity production and bioplastics. I support the money that has gone into research, particularly at James Cook University, into the further development of this technology.

Nearby that soon-to-be-built test plant in my electorate there are plans by another company to build a wind farm—the Coopers Gap wind farm. This wind farm will see 252 turbines built and have the capacity to power approximately 320,000 homes. At the other end of my electorate in Windorah, which has a population of just 150, that community in the Barcoo Shire can boast its very own solar farm. In fact, it is the solar farm that the Prime Minister visited with the Premier of Queensland a few months ago to talk about the renewable energy target. The five solar dishes there are expected to save 300 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the town’s reliance on diesel power. The project, which is funded and driven by Ergon Energy, has been wholeheartedly welcomed by the town. In the outback of my electorate and in many parts of outback Australia there is an abundance of sunshine and there is no concern about the sun not shining most days. In fact, there is not enough rain. The challenge of course of putting solar farms in the outback is the transmission of that power to the market. I will talk a little more about that later.

Just outside my electorate of Maranoa off the Birdsville Track is Innamincka, in South Australia’s north. It is home to a hot rocks energy project, established by the company Geodynamics, which had support from the Howard government for their research and development of hot rocks power generation. Aside from the world’s volcanic region, the Cooper Basin, which stretches from South Australia and back into my electorate of Maranoa, has the hottest rocks in the world. But the potential for hot rocks energy is not exclusive to the Cooper Basin. There are other areas across rural Australia, in South Australia and the Flinders Ranges, and near my own hometown of Roma, which offer the same potential and favourable conditions for the generation of power from hot rocks.

The harvesting of energy from these hot rocks, which lie about three kilometres below the surface, is quite simple. The heat is trapped between the age-old rocks and by circulating water through them the heat can be extracted which can then be converted into electricity. Hot rocks are a truly renewable, zero emission, baseload energy source. They do not rely on the sun, the wind or the tides. They are a renewable, baseload energy source that is able to provide huge amounts of power. Hot rocks technology has the capacity to fully replace fossil fuels and the potential to meet all of Australia’s electricity requirements for centuries to come. According to Geodynamics, one cubic kilometre of hot granite at 250 degrees centigrade has the stored energy equivalent of 40 million barrels of oil. The potential for geothermal energy is vast and, according to Geodynamics, could be used for concrete curing, milk pasteurisation, wool processing and the preheating of water for coal-fired power stations.

The challenge, of course, is that these energy sources are located a long way from the large consumer markets in our capital cities. I think one of the technologies that we will see more of in the near future is high-voltage, direct current, HVDC powerlines, both underground and above ground. They have the capacity to bring this power from the remote parts of Australia to the larger consumer markets with a limited loss of energy. That is another thing that we must talk about in the future if we are to truly realise the potential of solar and, in particular, in this case, hot rocks producing electricity for the clean, green energy market across Australia.

For those living in rural Australia, there is nothing new about harnessing the energy from the earth’s natural heat. Geothermal energy is the same resource responsible for warm artesian baths and warm artesian bore water. Birdsville, in my electorate, is home to a geothermal power station that harnesses the energy from the hot water taken from the Great Artesian Basin. It is doing it tonight as we speak in this House. The power station provides approximately 30 per cent of the town’s electricity needs, reduces diesel consumption by about 130,000 litres per year and abates 390 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This is just another example of the role rural and remote Australia is cast to play in Australia’s renewable energy future. Madam Deputy Speaker Saffin, I am sure you will appreciate that the only thing Maranoa will not be able to offer is tidal energy—perhaps in your electorate that will be possible. Maranoa is landlocked, so it will not happen there. I know the member for Bowman, who is in the chamber, would understand that.

While this bill is about renewable energy, I just want to put on the record some exciting developments in clean coal technology in my electorate of Maranoa. Whilst coal is of course not renewable, this technology provides enormous potential to reduce our carbon footprint and implement various new technologies. That is why I particularly support the opposition’s amendments, and the one in particular which calls for the inclusion of renewable gas or waste coalmine gas as a recognised zero emissions source of energy. The Liberal-National coalition introduced the nation’s first mandatory renewable energy target. When in government, we also committed to a 15 per cent clean energy target and former Prime Minister John Howard indicated support for a 20 per cent target.

We must continue to hold some healthy scepticism about the Labor government’s alleged green credentials. This Labor government promised that they would not means-test the $8,000 solar rebate, which the coalition introduced. But on budget day last year, what did they do? They introduced a means test. Then this year in June, without any warning, they prematurely abolished it, leaving many people in my electorate furious at the Rudd government. When they were still getting their paperwork done and getting contractors together, they were told they had just eight hours to lodge their application.

The Rudd government also abolished without warning the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program. This program allowed families, businesses and not-for-profit organisations that relied on diesel electricity to install solar or wind units. In June this year, just weeks after scrapping the $8,000 solar rebate without notice, they abolished this program, leaving many rural families and solar businesses in the lurch. Of course, we cannot be surprised about the actions of the Rudd Labor government—all spin and no substance. They have also linked this legislation to the flawed ETS. That was a callous move and what they were trying to do when they did that was to make the opposition look unfriendly about doing something about renewable energy. However, the amendments that we are putting forward are reasonable and responsible, and recognise some of the areas that this Labor government have failed to look at. It is shoddy legislation. We want these amendments put forward. Our shadow minister has addressed the amendments, and I fully support those particular four amendments.

I certainly want to make sure that this Prime Minister and this Labor government take a much smarter approach, and by taking a smarter approach it will be a bipartisan approach. However, from this side of the House, we support renewable energy targets and we want to make sure, with these amendments, we have a much smarter approach to reducing our carbon footprint. We did not support the ETS because it was not a smart approach. The Prime Minister and his Minister for Climate Change and Water should be breathing a sigh of relief that the non-government senators, after we were unable to stop it in this House because we do not have the numbers—have given them a chance to go back to the drawing board. I support our amendments. I support this bill and I look forward to the government support for our amendments in the passage of this legislation.