States leave federal government in the shade

NSW has the most large-scale renewable energy projects under way in Australia, and lifted its share of clean energy markedly in the past year, as states and territories take the lead in decarbonising the electricity sector, a report by the Climate Council has found.


A jump in hydropower helped raise renewable energy share in NSW by 5 percentage points last year to 17 per cent. That was marginally above the national share of 16 per cent, and the second-biggest increase after South Australia.

The Climate Council, though, rated by the most populous state behind all but Western Australia and the Northern Territory. While NSW has a net-zero economy-wide emissions target for 2050, it has not set a goal for renewables.

By contrast, Victoria gained credit for its efforts to legislate this year a 25 per cent renewable energy share by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. Last year, the state’s share was 12 per cent, up one percentage point from 2015.

Overall, efforts by states and territories are ahead of the federal government, which continues to dither over whether to set a Clean Energy Target as proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. The current Renewable Energy Target (RET), to achieve 33,000 gigawatt-hours a year, only runs until 2020.

“Almost all states and territories (except Western Australia) now have higher renewable energy targets or net-zero emissions targets which are stronger than the federal government,” according to the council’s Renewables Ready: States Leading the Charge report.

The Turnbull government “has not implemented any new policies to support renewable energy investment beyond measures in place before [it] took office” in 2013, it said. The government, though, had taken “some positive steps” to support energy storage schemes, such as the so-called Snowy 2.0 plans to boost capacity of the Snowy Hydro scheme.

Energy issues remain a hot political issue, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday telling the heads of major electricity and gas firms to help consumers cut their soaring power and gas bills by highlighting the best deals on offer.

Big electricity retailers pledged to contact at least 1 million customers currently on default offers to explain how they might get lower tariffs. Longer term cost cuts, though, would depend on “policy certainty and new investment in generation”, Matthew Warren, chief executive of the Australian Energy Council, said.

New wind and solar farms, underpinned by the RET, and new rooftop solars are almost the only new capacity being added to the grid.

In terms of large-scale projects, NSW will build eight ventures this year with a 1.018 gigawatts of capacity, roughly a third of the national total, the Climate Council report notes. Queensland is next largest, with 784 megawatts and Victoria third with 687 megawatts.

By comparison, Australia added 265 megawatts of large-scale capacity in 2016 as the sector began its recovery from an investment drought during the Abbott government years.

Among the states, Tasmania last year generated 92 per cent of its electricity from renewables – down from 99 per cent in 2015. South Australia last year lifted its renewable energy share by 7 percentage points to 47 per cent, a ratio lifted in part by the closure of an ageing coal-fired power station.

Rooftop solar, meanwhile, has now reached about 21 per cent of households, or 1.7 million homes, the council’s report said.

Queensland appears to be living up to its one-time moniker as the sunshine state, with 31.6 per cent of homes having solar photovoltaics as of April. South Australia trails with 30.5 per cent, and WA 25.4 per cent.

NSW has the second-most installed rooftop panel capacity, at 1.413 gigawatts, behind Queensland’s 1.727 gigawatts. Victoria has the third largest capacity at 1.048 gigawatts, the reports said.

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