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ENERGY CRISIS DEEPENS WHILE NATION DITHERS ON RENEWABLES - Opinion Piece, Hobart Mercury 'Talking Point', Monday, 9 October 2017




It's been nearly a decade of watching the conservatives in politics tear themselves apart over renewable energy, but recently it became absolute madness.

The saga of the Turnbull Government's energy policy is bewildering, particularly for an energy company seeking stable guidelines on which it can base its investment decisions.

Yet does anyone have the foggiest idea about what sort of energy policy Malcolm Turnbull stands for?

We used to. In 2009, as opposition leader, he worked hard to get the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislated.

As a backbencher, he dismissed the Abbott opposition's "direct action" disaster as a "fig leaf covering a determination to do nothing".

The Abbott government introduced Direct Action as the centrepiece of its energy policy. As Malcolm Turnbull predicted, it's done nothing.

Worse than nothing.

In fact, the Government has done everything in its power to try to destroy Australia's share in one of the world's fastest growing industries.

Under their watch, we have lost one in three renewable energy jobs. Wholesale power prices have doubled.

Carbon pollution is consistently rising, with recent data showing an annual increase of 1.4 per cent, and government projections showing pollution in 2030 being the same as in 2005.

And now, when Malcolm Turnbull is not ordering energy executives to mail letters to customers, or trying to force a private company to keep open a 50-year-old, wheezing coal station beyond its use-by date when it already decided it would close in order to build a solar farm, he talks up how he is fixing the energy crisis by building Snowy Hydro 2.0.

Turnbull's Snowy Hydro 2.0 is many things, but being built isn't one of them. Neither is it a solution to the current crisis or the longer term need for new generation. If it ever gets built, Snowy 2.0 will be a large wet battery, not a source of new generation.

He is throwing more money at a feasibility study for the project and pretending it is news and leadership.

The only news is that the feasibility study will cost at least $29 million. The total cost could be twice the original $2 billion he flagged.

Even if the feasibility study stacks up, as well as environmental approvals and an economic analysis, Snowy 2.0 will probably take seven years to complete.

Labor supports the principle of pumped hydro projects to support a more reliable and cleaner electricity system with more renewables, but no one should be under the illusion Snowy Hydro 2.0 will fix the energy crisis.

The Prime Minister must come up with a legitimate renewable energy policy. But he is even scuttling away from the Clean Energy Target concept he introduced in July.

We all know that if the Prime Minister is searching for a best-practice example of how to get the renewable energy mix right he should look across the Bass Strait.

Renewable energy investment has been a pillar in Tasmania's electricity market for a century. In 1914 the Tasmanian government bought out a small electricity company in financial difficulty and created the Hydro-Electric Department. Within 10 years, hydro-electric power was revolutionising farms, factories and mills all over the state.

In recent decades Hydro Tasmania has expanded its renewable energy resources through investment in Woolnorth Wind Farm in the North-West and Musselroe Wind Farm in the North-East.

The latter generates 168 megawatts of energy annually - enough to power 50,000 households, according to Hydro Tasmania - and preventing 450,000 tons of carbon dioxide from polluting our atmosphere every year.

With assets worth more than $5 billion, Hydro Tasmania employs more than 1100 Tasmanians and is now the largest producer of renewable energy in Australia.

It generates nearly half the country's extant renewable energy and exports electricity to the national grid through the Basslink connector between Tasmania and Victoria.

Tasmania truly is the jewel in Australia's renewable energy industry. The transition from fossil fuel-based energy to renewable energy is accelerating now.

Australia will not get the stable energy policy it needs as long as energy policy remains the subject of internal ideological Coalition disputes.

Three quarters of Australia's thermal electricity generation fleet is operating beyond its design life.

Critical energy infrastructure needs to be replaced - and the cheapest, cleanest source of new power is renewable energy. When backed by pumped hydro, batteries or peaking gas generation, renewables can deliver secure energy 24/7.

Labor has a comprehensive plan to address Australia's energy future, with a target to achieve 50 per cent of Australia's energy from renewable sources by 2030 at its core. Our renewables target will boost private investment in Australia by nearly $50 billion. It will put downward pressure on power bills and is estimated to create nearly 30,000 new jobs.

Labor will return Australia, a country with the best solar and wind resources in the world, to being a leading renewable energy economy.

We will make Australia into a renewable energy superpower, and Tasmania will be at the centre.

That is why Labor committed to a second interconnector at the last election. A second connector would enable Tasmania to be the renewable powerhouse of the nation, providing jobs and a boost to our economy.

So this is my challenge to the Prime Minister: start working on a solution to the energy crisis instead of prolonging this sorry mess for another decade.

Lisa Singh is a Labor Senator for Tasmania. Her website is www.lisasingh.com.au. This Opinion Piece was first published in the Hobart Mercury on Monday, 9 October 2017.