Renewable Energy,A Future Gold Mine for Tasmania

During the recent federal election campaign it was clear that the chief concern for many Tasmanians was jobs and growth. The challenge lies in identifying precisely where Tasmania can exploit competitive advantages and in the process find new, innovative ways of boosting the economy.

One such area where Tasmania can get ahead and achieve positive change is the renewable energy sector, an important component of the modern economy that is no doubt bracing for the worst now that the Abbott Government is in power. Unfortunately Mr Abbott and the Coalition don’t understand that encouraging developments in renewable energy has the capacity to transform the Australian economy and lower total carbon emissions.

A typical example of this parochial mindset has been observed recently with the new Member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic claiming that abolishing the price on carbon will “boost growth” and “increase jobs”.

This is a statement that deserves careful scrutiny.

We need to remember what placing a price on carbon was designed to achieve – a transition from a reliance on carbon emissions to greater utilisation of cleaner technologies. Without carbon pricing many fear that there won’t be the same investment in renewable energies and projects won’t reach their full potential.

As I noted in the Senate chamber earlier this year, in recent times the policies delivered by Labor have ensured that the renewable energy industry has gone from strength to strength. To take just one example, wind capacity in Australia rose from just over 1,100 megawatts to over 3,000 megawatts during Labor’s time in power. In fact, last year wind farms in this country produced enough electricity to power over one million homes, a target that seemed impossible not that long ago.

Tasmania was the recipient of several grants under the Clean Technology Investment Program and the Clean Technology Innovation Program, which allowed numerous local outfits in Mr Nikolic’s electorate and indeed across Tasmania to upgrade equipment and reduce emissions intensity.

There is much planned for the future of Tasmania’s renewable energy sector as well, including a 200 turbine wind farm development on King Island. It won’t surprise many Tasmanians to learn that the state has a distinct advantage when it comes to wind power development. We are of course placed squarely within the “Roaring 40s”, which means that we receive some of the most reliable winds anywhere on the planet.  According to Hydro Tasmania, the project on King Island will bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the local community as well as infrastructure upgrades and at least 60 jobs. The wind farm is currently subject to a court date set for November 1 following a challenge from a body called “No TasWind Farm Group”. They of course deserve a fair hearing on their objections, but the plans for this wind farm demonstrate once again how renewable energy has the potential to be such a game changer for the Tasmanian economy.

Right now companies across Australia are expressing alarm at the Abbott Government’s lack of commitment to national renewable energy growth goals. Andrew Thomson, the chief of Acciona Energy, a recognised leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and a company that is committed to a low carbon economy in Australia, is particularly concerned. Earlier this week he noted that vital investments in renewable energy targets were dependent on the Coalition affirming its commitment to the bipartisan Renewable Energy Target (RET) and that power purchase contracts are being delayed due to the uncertainty of the Coalition’s approach. The Government, which previously committed to the target of sourcing a fifth of Australia’s power from renewable energy by 2020, plans to review the RET in 2014. Given the Coalition’s indifference to the aim of reducing our carbon footprint via renewable energy and its outright hostility to pricing carbon it is apparent that Mr Thomson’s concerns are entirely justified. 

Now is the time for Tasmania to really embrace the renewable energy sector and make sure that the Abbott Government doesn’t hinder progress. If approached intelligently renewable energy will allow the state to take advantage of new innovations in the coming decades that promise to revolutionise how energy is produced. It is not good enough to stick our heads in the sand, if we don’t jump on board and do everything possible to encourage renewable energies than the accompanying jobs and growth opportunities will flow elsewhere overseas.

Renewable energy represents a potential gold mine that will benefit all Tasmanians, but only if we work to make it happen.

Proactively fostering developments in the renewable energy sector, including putting a price on carbon, is about long-term vision. It is about considering what sort of planet we want to leave behind and it is about new jobs and opportunities that have the potential to enhance Tasmania’s economic prospects for generations to come.

At times the response from sections of the media and the Australian public to announcements on climate change policy and renewable energy in this country has been close-minded, misinformed and consumed by short term self-interest. I certainly hope that Mr Nikolic and his Coalition colleagues don’t continue to exploit out-dated views to suit their own political objectives.

Let’s hope that the next 100 years sees even greater investment in renewable energy, Tasmania has a lot to gain from such a commitment.