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'Rocketing': Australia's clean energy rebounds from setbacks, heads for record year

'Rocketing': Australia's clean energy rebounds from setbacks, heads for record year

Australia's clean energy sector is heading for a record year for new solar and wind farms, generating thousands of jobs in regional areas and bringing the 2020 Renewable Energy Target within range.

The Clean Energy Council's annual report released on Tuesday shows the country generated about 17,500 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy last year, more than half way to the 2020 goal of 33,000 GW-hours a year.

A surge in new investment starting in late 2016 will see a record amount of new large-scale solar and wind added to the grid this year, with about 4000 direct jobs already added so far in 2017.

"We're really rocketing into and through 2017," Kane Thornton, the council's chief executive, said. "It's a major turnaround."

Private investment in large-scale renewable energy all but dried up after the Abbott government's election in 2013 stirred uncertainty in the sector. Spending on new plants, though, rebounded to $2.56 billion last year while those securing financial close so far in 2017 have already reached $5.20 billion, the council said.

Provided policy certainty remains, the industry is "very confident" the 2020 goal can be met, Mr Thornton said.

The RET combined with falling prices of renewable energy and the on-going doubts about what if any carbon price will be attached to new coal-fired power stations has made clean energy investment virtually the only new capacity being added to the grid.

The annual report cited data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance showing new wind farms are being built at a levelised cost of energy at $61-118 per megawatt-hour. That compared with $74-90 for gas, $78-140 for solar and $134-203 MW-hour for ultra-critical coal-fired plants.

The industry is expecting next month's final report on energy security by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel to conclude further increases in the share of renewables is inevitable particularly if the country is to meet its pledged carbon emissions cuts.

"I don't think the public are buying the argument that renewables are part of the [security] problem," Mr Thornton said.

While there is no federal target beyond 2020, most states are setting their own goals in part to lure some of the "boomtime" jobs on offer.

The ACT is aiming for 100 per cent renewables by 2020, while South Australia is likely to have exceeded a 50 per cent share in the 2016-17 year, at least eight years earlier than scheduled, the report said.

Victoria is aiming for a 25 per cent renewables share in 2020 and rising to 40 per cent five years later. That's up from 16 per cent last year.

NSW, which is considering matching the reverse auctions used by ACT and soon by Victoria, was running at a 12 per cent share in 2016, lagging all states but Queensland with its 5 per cent share.

The Sydney Morning Herald

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