The Clean Energy Council has called on Australia’s political leaders to commit to a 100% renewable electricity grid for Australia by 2030, and no new coal or gas plants at all, as part of a suite of policy recommendations ahead of the upcoming federal election.
In its Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future, the CEC calls for $20 billion in federal funding to help fast-track upgrades to grid infrastructure that are crucial to the shift to 100% renewables, and a further $5 billion to set up green hydrogen hubs around the country.
Another $1 billion should be set aside to support transitioning coal communities around Australia, the CEC says, and a commitment made to “not fund, support or underwriting any new coal or gas-fired electricity generation,” effective immediately.
The policy recommendations form part of a detailed, nine-point plan published by the CEC on Tuesday, as the nation braces for an election date to be set and for campaigning by the major parties to begin in earnest.
CEC chief Kane Thornton said on Tuesday that the clear message coming from Australia’s private sector over the past three years was that the federal government’s policies on net-zero emissions and renewables had been far from adequate.
The report notes that investment in big solar and wind has slowed dramatically since 2019 due to the expiry of the Renewable Energy Target, lower electricity prices, the inadequacy of Australia’s transmission network and significant barriers to grid connection.
This lull in investment, the report says, highlights the need for a strong and coordinated political strategy to better manage the transition to a clean energy system and unlock the enormous potential at hand.
Businesses wanted ambitious short-term targets to drive immediate investment, Thorton said, while voters would back policy that supported strong action against climate change and an acceleration of the shift to cheaper renewables.
The CEC’s policy recommendations also call for a target for every suitable and appropriate Australian building to have rooftop solar and a household battery by 2030.
“An electricity grid powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 will deliver emissions reductions based on 2005 levels of 44.5 per cent – and it comes with the upsides of jobs, investment and growth,” Thornton said.
“This is just below the global average of 45 per cent – it’s not an ambitious or difficult target – it’s the low-hanging fruit.
“This is our golden opportunity that equals billions of dollars’ worth of private sector investment, tens of thousands of quality jobs, economic growth and new industries to help sustain regional communities for decades to come.”
Energy and climate change are all but guaranteed to be major campaign focuses for both the Liberal National Coalition and federal Labor, but at this stage neither party’s policies are cracked up to what the CEC hopes to see.
In December, opposition climate and energy spokesperson Chris Bowen unveiled the latest iteration of Labor’s climate policy platform, which would commit Australia to a 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030.
As Michael Mazengarb reported at the time, the plan assumes major milestones, including an 82 per cent share of renewables in Australia’s main grid by 2030, supported by its previously announcing $20 billion grid support plan.
It does, however, fall outside the 45 to 65 per cent range for a 2030 target recommended by the Climate Change Authority as a fair contribution by Australia to global climate action, and is less even than the 50 per cent target endorsed by the Business Council of Australia.
The Morrison government late last year finally bowed to pressure to set a net-zero target of 2050, but then subsequently released modelling that appears to aim for an 85% cut in Australian emissions by that date.
The Coalition’s plan maps a path for Australia to cut domestic emissions by around 60%, a further 25% of Australia’s emissions to be offset with credits purchased from overseas. It leaves a remaining 15% of emissions reductions – needed to actually reach net zero – to unspecified and unexpected advancements in technologies.
And neither party looks likely to cut the cord to fossil fuel generation, with the Morrison government just this week giving Snowy Hydro the environmental green light to develop the $600 million gas-fired Kurri Kurri power station in the NSW Hunter region.
The project has been slammed by environmental groups and senior energy market analysts, who have labelled it as “dirty, unnecessary and expensive.” Federal Labor, meanwhile, has also agreed to back the project, on the condition that it is transitioned to green hydrogen fuel as soon as possible.
In comments on the Morrison government’s decision on Kurri Kurri, Thornton said on Monday that it made “no sense” to be spending taxpayer dollars on the fossil fuel project, when battery storage could do the same job for less money and far fewer emissions.
“It sends the wrong message to clean energy investors and to communities at a time when the International Energy Agency says that there is no space for new fossil fuel developments if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” he said.
Perhaps our best hope for an end to new coal and gas generation in Australia lies with the Greens, which this week said it would seek a temporary moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects as part of any cooperative deal on climate policy following the next federal election.
Whether the major parties would be on board for this remains to be seen, but as RenewEconomy reported on Monday, they may have little choice in the matter, if the election delivers a parliament where the Greens and other crossbenchers continue to hold the balance of power.
However the election plays out, the CEC is hoping that voters will send a strong message on climate action and renewables, and that policy makers will receive it.
“Now is the time to exploit Australia’s natural advantages to bring down the cost of electricity for households and businesses and position the country as the innate home of energy-intensive industries in the Asia Pacific,” Thornton said on Tuesday.
“Clean energy can create thousands of new jobs, empower consumers, bring economic activity to regional communities, lower power prices and create the smart infrastructure of the future that can cement Australia’s place as a global clean energy superpower.
“More renewable energy investment is crucial for Australia to prepare for the inevitable exit of ageing coal generators over the coming decade.”
The Clean Energy Council’s nine-point plan sets out the following policy recommendations:
1. Electrify Australia: power the Australian economy and industry with wind, solar, hydro, bioenergy and battery storage.
2. Empower customers and communities to make the switch to clean energy.
3. Build a strong, smart, 21st-century electricity network.
4. Maximise the creation of quality clean energy jobs and a local supply chain.
5. Provide greater support and certainty for coal communities and industry as the phase-out of coal generation accelerates.
6. Modernise Australia’s energy market and its governance for the clean energy transformation.
7. Turbo-charge clean energy innovation.
8. Decarbonise Australian industries using clean energy.
9. Put Australia on a path to becoming a global clean energy superpower that exports renewable energy to Asia and beyond.
Sophie is editor of One Step Off The Grid and deputy editor of its sister site, Renew Economy. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.