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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 66

Senator MILNE (5:58 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I rise to note the report and thank the 129 organisations that provided submissions to this inquiry into the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Feed-in-Tariff) Bill 2008 that the Greens brought to the Senate. This legislation is for the introduction of a national gross feed-in tariff for Australia to drive the deployment of renewable energy.

It is absolutely imperative that Australia gets a nationally consistent gross feed-in tariff as soon as possible, otherwise we will be left behind in the green energy revolution that is about to sweep the world. I say about to sweep the world but it is already happening in Europe, and president-elect Obama,, in the United States, has undertaken to spend $150 billion on the green energy revolution there in order, as he said, to create an army of green collar workers in all these new technologies, because he recognises that if the United States does not shift rapidly to a green energy base they will no longer be competitive in the manufacturing sector. It is absolutely recognised—in Germany, in Spain—that you have to have a national gross feed-in tariff to see the deployment of renewable energies.

Of the 129 submissions on this bill I am delighted that all but two of them were essentially in favour of a gross feed-in tariff. That is fantastic. Many of them are in business in the renewable energy sector and all agree that this is the way to move forward—to get beyond ad hoc systems of rebates and to get beyond ad hoc nature of the whole system of just trying to encourage people through very limited programs to actually put in place a mechanism that says to people: ‘We will pay you a fixed price for a fixed period of time for the energy that you generate into the grid.’ The result is that everyone is enabled to become an electricity generator. It is really exciting. This is a great new story for rural Australia, which is struggling in the drought, because it essentially enables them to farm a new crop—that is, renewable energy.

The Greens have looked at feed-in tariffs around the world. The tragedy for Australia is that because of a lack of leadership from the Commonwealth we have seen states introduce an ad hoc series of feed-in tariffs, and they are overwhelmingly flawed. When you look at these feed-in tariffs around the country you find that in South Australia it is only a net tariff so you only get paid for the energy that you export to the grid above what you use. So you only get a very small amount. In Western Australia they have a feed-in tariff but it is only for small-scale photovoltaics. All around the country there are limits. In New South Wales the government has said that if the Commonwealth does not introduce a national feed-in tariff New South Wales will introduce its own. Queensland has got one but it too is fundamentally flawed because it is not a gross scheme. The best of the state and territory schemes at the moment is in the ACT because it is a gross feed-in tariff and it is also not restricted to just small-scale photovoltaics. So the main problem with the systems as they stand around the country is that they are not gross tariffs necessarily. Secondly, they are only payable on fairly small-scale generation units. Many of them are restricted to rooftop photovoltaics and many of them have an upper cap where they cease to pay once you have achieved a certain level of energy generation.

Of the 129 submissions that came in to the committee, two submissions opposed this tariff. One was from the government of South Australia and the other was from the federal Department of Climate Change. I find it absolutely extraordinary that, when you look around the world and see that in Germany, in Spain and all over the world governments are trying to deploy renewable energy and supporting this, the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change is opposing this and the government of South Australia is also opposing it because they have got their net tariff scheme. I can only assume that the opposition of the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change to it reflects the government’s opposition to it, otherwise that bureaucracy would not be opposing it.

You have to ask why the Commonwealth would be standing in the way of a national gross feed-in tariff for Australia. One can only assume that it is because the government does not want a massive deployment of renewable energy and it does not want our rural communities, through joint ventures and leasehold arrangements, bringing on utility-scale energy from solar-thermal and geothermal sources, for example. This is designed to complement the MRET so that you would have those technologies that are already commercially viable, like wind, being helped through the MRET, and then those other technologies, like solar-thermal and geothermal and large solar arrays, being brought on through the feed-in tariff.

British energy experts have also recognised that this is the best way to go and have recently foreshadowed that Britain will be moving to a feed-in tariff structure. I was in Spain recently and drove from Malaga up to Granada. On the way you see wind farms on all the ridges and solar arrays amongst the citrus orchards because farmers can benefit. In Germany you have got pig farmers with photovoltaics all over their barn rooves—and on winter barns all over Europe—because farmers can get additional income by selling renewable energy. This is the way to go for Australia. This is the way to deploy renewable energy.

I am really disappointed that in spite of the fact that there was overwhelming support for this the committee recommended that it go through the COAG process. The Commonwealth has already taken over the mandatory renewable energy target as a national scheme. The Commonwealth has already taken over the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme—the ETS—as a national scheme that will accommodate the New South Wales model. Why would the Commonwealth not bring in a national gross feed-in tariff and bring the states into harmonisation with that national tariff. Saying it should go to COAG is a recipe for making it never happen. Everybody knows that the COAG process decided to look at feed-in tariffs in March this year and was meant to report in October, but it was deferred in October until November and it is now likely to be deferred again in November. It is a recipe for putting it off and off and off, and we already know that South Australia wants to stick to its net tariff regime—it will block. Tasmania has nothing and New South Wales has got to come on board. It is quite clear that the coal producing states will never want to see a national gross feed-in tariff. For those people who say, ‘Oh, but the problem is that if you introduce this generous tariff that rolls out renewable energy, that deals with the climate issue and that gets us significant reductions in emissions and an increase in renewables it will add to the additional cost of energy across the country.’ Yes, but you spread the cost across all consumers.

In Germany it amounts to virtually a cup of cappuccino a year. In Queensland they did some modelling which showed that it was a dollar a year. We are talking minimal costs, once you spread it across all consumers, for a massive rollout of renewable energy. If the federal government thinks it is appropriate to have a mandatory renewable energy target to deal with an emissions trading scheme, then it should be Commonwealth legislation that brings in a national gross feed-in tariff and that should be harmonised around the country.

I do not accept the COAG process as the most appropriate, because it is a mechanism for delay and it is a mechanism for the lowest common denominator. We will be standing here next year as the United States zooms ahead on renewable energy—as Europe and China continue to zoom ahead on renewable energy. As all the jobs in this energy revolution are going overseas, we will still be standing here waiting for COAG to get its act together and to agree to anything. We all know that, if COAG is left in charge of this, it will be left at a very small scale. It will not be utility scale; it will be restricted to a very few technologies. It will be a scheme that does not do the job with the urgency of climate change. I remind the government that Britain has gone to a figure of 80 per cent below 1990 by 2050, as has the United States under its new president. Australia needs to catch up, get with it and get with the green new deal or we will be left behind.