WA urged to go it alone on renewables

Ross Garnaut (© Coombs Photography)

Influential energy and climate economist Professor Ross Garnaut says Western Australia should adopt a state based emissions intensity scheme. He is recommending and Emissions Intensity Scheme (EIS) for the state.

Professor Garnaut said WA could lead the world as a clean energy superpower. He believes its vast resources of renewable energy, and its isolation from the National Energy Market (NEM), present unique opportunities for the state to gain a global competitive advantage by transitioning to high levels of renewable energy, even as the rest of Australia “wallows in incoherent energy and emissions policy.”

With the best renewable energy resources globally, Australia is the natural home for energy intensive industry investment in carbon-constrained world, said Professor Garnaut, speaking at a energy conference at Perth’s Murdoch University.

“Australia has the potential to become an energy superpower in the low carbon world economy, but it needs to shake off the shackles of those with ideological or vested interest in the old ways of supplying energy,” he said.

“Western Australia can benefit from its own vast and diverse renewable energy, mineral, land and marine resources and play a vital role contributing to the national and global transition to a zero carbon energy future.

“WA’s policy independence from the NEM allows it to avoid legacy problems of high costs and unreliability in other states. Policies at state level elsewhere are presently driving much of the development in Australia.”

The WA Labor Government was comfortably elected in March 2017, ending nine years of Liberal Party rule. New Premier Mark McGowan and his Energy Minister Ben Wyatt have moved slowly on announcing any state-based renewable energy target or energy policy, but are under increased pressure to do so.

The WA Greens, with four members in the upper house, are strong supporters of renewable energy in the state. The Liberal and National parties, like their federal counterparts, are not so keen.

Ross Garnaut is the man hired by Kevin Rudd in 2007 to examine the economic impact of climate change on the Australian economy and recommend ways to deal with it. His report, released in 2008, recommended an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as the best way of lowering carbon emissions. It was criticised by environmental organisations as being too weak and by business groups as being too costly.

Ten years on, Australia has gone backwards and emissions continue to rise, with no abatement plan in sight and ideology counting for more than scientific fact. The Federal Government has rejected an ETS outright and has now ignored the advice of its own Chief Scientist, which it sought, for a renewable energy target.

Conservation Council of WA Director Piers Verstegen said, “With national energy and climate policy in chaos, it is clear that WA needs to go it alone. The good news is that this can deliver a strong advantage for WA by attracting new jobs and investment to our state.

“Professor Garnaut’s recommended EIS is an example of policy that could be adopted now by the WA Government to drive the transition to affordable renewable energy, and make our state a leader in the global clean energy economy of the future.

“Whereas an ETS comes with a cap on overall carbon pollution, and EIS does not (it is focused on emissions intensity or emissions per unit of energy output). Thus it is important that any state-based intensity target is linked to an overall emissions reduction target for the whole economy or just the electricity sector, and reviewed regularly,” Mr Verstegen told Government News.

In 2016 renewable energy accounted for over 13 percent of all electricity consumed on Western Australia’s main electricity grid, the South West Interconnected System, including electricity consumed by households and businesses producing their own electricity from small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Overall, renewables accounted for about 7 percent of all electricity consumed in Western Australia.

Energy Minister Ben Wyatt has had little to say about energy since entering government, perhaps because he is also Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The WA ALP specifically ruled out a state-based RET before the March 2017 election, and Mr Wyatt is on record as saying that we would prefer a national approach to energy policy, a view not shared by the ALP in the eastern states. But the Government has not ruled out an EIS, as proposed by Professor Garnaut.

Mr Wyatt was reported in the West Australian on 20 Octobers as saying: “I don’t think individual State models are as efficient and as effective for private sector investment as a national model.

“That is always my preference. But I’m not sure what the national model is going to look like and we would have to have a bit of an understanding on that before we can make any comments around WA joining whatever it may or may not be.”

No doubt his position will be clearer after the upcoming energy COAG expected to be held this month.

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