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'Late out of the blocks': NSW lags Victoria, other states in renewables

'Late out of the blocks': NSW lags Victoria, other states in renewables

NSW trails most of the nation in adding new renewable energy, sourcing just six per cent of electricity from wind or solar, and lacking a target to drive faster penetration, a new study by the Climate Council has found.

Tasmania led the pack last year, drawing 87.4 per cent of its electricity from clean energy sources, including hydro power, ahead of the ACT at 46.2 per cent and South Australia at 43.4 per cent, the report found.

Genex Power's Kidston pumped hydro and solar plant in Queensland is part of a surge in that state's renewable energy.

Stripping out the role of Snowy Hydro, NSW's total share of renewable energy in its power sector dropped from 12.6 per cent to 6 per cent. A similar exclusion of hydro lowered Victoria's share from 13.6 per cent to 10.4 per cent.

The surge in recent approvals for large-scale wind and solar plants – driven in part by falling technology prices but also a rush to fill the 2020 Renewable Energy Target – will increase the share of Australia's renewables particularly in the most populous eastern states.

Queensland and Victoria account for more than half the 69 large-scale projects with almost 11,000 megawatts of capacity under construction or are about to start. The two states also share about a third each of the 9269 jobs involved, the report found.

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NSW, which accounts for about a quarter of the planned new capacity, has only about one-sixth of the jobs going.

"They are certainly well and truly late out of the blocks," Andrew Stock, one of the report's authors, and currently a professorial fellow at Melbourne University, said. “NSW should be doing a lot more to accelerate projects."

One reason for the urgency is "NSW consumers are probably the most exposed in the nation to the risk of old [coal-fired power] plants failing,” Professor Stock said. This includes AGL's aging Liddell power station in the Hunter Valley due to close in 2022.

Don Harwin, NSW's Energy Minister, said the total renewable energy pipeline in his state was almost 17,000 MW if projects seeking approval were added. They represented $21 billion in potential investment.

"One of the most crucial issues we face in bringing this potential investment online is the capacity of the network," Mr Harwin said. "We currently face significant limitations on connecting new energy generation to the grid – with only one in every 20 proposals able to be connected."

The role of the states in supporting renewable energy had become more important as the RET neared its end and there was an absence of any federal plan to replace it, Professor Stock said.

The Morrison government ditched the National Energy Guarantee as its signature climate and energy plan when the federal Liberal MPs ousted Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in August.

The Andrews Labor government in Victoria has signalled it plans to make renewable energy a key point of difference with the Liberals in its state election next month.

Lily D’Ambrosio, Victoria's Energy Minister, said the Climate Council report confirmed that governments can address climate action while increasing employment.

“We’re investing more in clean energy than any government in Victorian history, driving down energy prices, reducing emissions and creating thousands of jobs across the state,” Ms D'Ambrosio said.

Victoria and Queensland are among the states and territories to have set renewable energy targets. Victoria wants to source 25 per cent of its electricity by 2020 and 40 per cent five years later.

For Queensland, the goal is to reach 50 per cent by 2030, or a seven-fold increase in its share at the end of 2017 of just 7.1 per cent.

Queensland's Energy Minister, Anthony Lynham, said his state had added 870 MW of new renewable energy over the past 22 months, worth about $1.8 billion in investment.

"Another 16 projects are financially committed or underway, offering 1600 more megawatts of renewable generation, and importantly for regional Queensland, almost 2700 construction jobs," Dr Lynham said.

"This is what consistent energy policy can deliver."

Sydney Morning Herald

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