Electricity Infastructure Investment Bill

(Debate, 11 November 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I support the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill 2020, which gives New South Wales the best chance it has ever had to develop a modern, reliable and environmentally responsible electricity system. I commend Minister Kean and the New South Wales Government for their leadership in delivering this legislation and acknowledge the contributions of the member for North Shore and the member for Manly, who are members of the committee inquiring into energy sustainability in New South Wales, a committee that I chair.

Coal has long powered New South Wales communities, but burning coal for electricity produces significant greenhouse gas emissions that are driving dangerous climate change. It also poisons the air, water and land. While we still source almost 80 per cent of our power from coal, four out of five coal-fired power stations in this State will close in the next 15 years and there is now an abundance of affordable, reliable and green electricity alternatives to move ahead with. Electricity provides one of the easiest pathways to cutting large volumes of greenhouse gas emissions. Technological advances in renewable energy have seen its price drop and its reliability go up. Solar and wind power are now the cheapest forms of new power generation—cheaper than coal; cheaper than gas. Battery technology development has made renewable energy available when there is no sun or wind, or when the grid needs supplementation. But we need strong policy and legislation to make the switch because there are challenges that the market alone cannot resolve.

The transmission network is at capacity and new infrastructure needs to be coordinated with new generation. Without a plan, the private sector will see investment as a risk. The renewable energy target demonstrates the potential of good energy policy. The target cut greenhouse gas emissions in the Australian electricity market by 26 per cent on 2005 levels and propelled a renewable energy boom that supported jobs, technology and declining energy costs. The target gave clear signals to energy providers on the required mix of electricity sources in the market resulting in strong investment. But that investment has stalled with the expiration of the target, especially in the transmission network, and I hope that this bill and the policy that underpins it will not only fill the void but set up a clean electricity system for the State's future.

The bill will deliver a massive boost in renewable energy generation and sets up a framework to encourage more renewable energy investment beyond legislated goals including by making sustainability a statutory object of the State's electricity plan. I believe the bill could be stronger in its bid to shore up new firming infrastructure to guarantee that the most sustainable long-term options are implemented. Climate change leaves us no choice but to drastically cut our emissions. The State Government has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and this aim must be a priority in reshaping the electricity system. I foreshadow that I will move an amendment at a later stage to allow a standing or special committee which under the bill can be established to advise the Minister on relevant matters, to provide advice on strategies in the electricity sector to help achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The transition to a clean, green electricity supply will not cause any disruption for the vast majority of people, but risks of economic shock exist for communities in which a power station is a major employer and part of the community.

There are responsible and irresponsible ways to close a power station. Closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria is an example of how not to do things. There was little preparation and now 25 per cent of workers who did not retire remain unemployed. By contrast, Germany's targets to increase renewable energy share to 65 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050 drew support from former power station workers because they were involved in planning, investment, retraining and income compensation through the Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment. The skills of coal-fired power station workers can be transferred to meet the requirements of renewable jobs as well as jobs in other industries like manufacturing or power station and mine rehabilitation. But for this to happen, early preparation, coordination and consultation is needed. Some power stations are taking initiatives that build resilience in their workforce and local economies before they close but not all are.

We need a dedicated body to look at jobs investment, transferable skills, skills gaps and retraining in order to prevent a shock in the regions before coal-fired power stations close. The body should work with employers, employees, community representatives and unions to ensure that no-one is left behind. I will move an amendment at a later stage to allow for a standing or select committee to look at the transition for workers and communities impacted by the changing energy supply. We have to bring communities in new renewable energy zones and those adjacent to renewable generation and transmission infrastructure projects with us on this journey if we are to deliver a modern and sustainable energy supply. Large renewable energy products can attract opposition from residents and farmers due to impacts on tourism, property values or agriculture. We need to engage with affected communities and look at solutions to address their concerns while ensuring that renewable energy can be delivered. Perhaps the narrow definition of "lowest economic cost transmission planning" could be broadened to favour developments that are not in towns or on prime land, and can therefore be fast-tracked to make them more efficient in the long term.

We need to be mindful that most renewable and transmission capacity in this State is on land that belongs to traditional owners. They must also be engaged in any infrastructure planning process. Community and traditional owner engagement in renewable energy zones and large renewable energy generation and transmission products could be a role for the consumer trustee or the infrastructure planner. I ask the Minister to address in his reply how the Government will ensure that local communities will have input. I acknowledge that the member for Wagga Wagga has put forward an amendment addressing this concern.

Human-induced climate change is making the planet uninhabitable. We need a plan to get to 100 per cent clean energy that phases out coal. We know from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we must cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent on 2010 levels by 2030, with net zero emissions achieved by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This requires far-reaching, rapid and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. While a major challenge, there are substantial social, economic and environmental benefits to taking this action, and these are most obviously seen in transitioning our electricity network to a renewable base. The widespread community support for greening the energy supply is reflected in the large number of submissions from members of the public to the inquiry into the sustainability of energy supply and resources in New South Wales, especially from people living in regions with coal mining and coal power generation.

Coal power cannot be the future because of its role in climate change. The world is fast shifting to other forms of energy, and it is predicted that by 2050 coal will supply only 12 per cent of the world's power. I welcome the long-awaited catch-up that comes with the bill, and I congratulate the Minister on this landmark, forward‑thinking legislation. The electricity policy area has been fraught with scaremongering that has stalled progress for too long. In what has been a tough year, it shows maturity from members of Parliament that these reforms can be achieved with multipartisan cooperation. I commend the bill to the House.