Queensland chooses sunshine over coal

Returning Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Photo AAP

Returning Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Photo AAP

Giles Parkinson, RenewEconomy

Phew, that was close. That must be the reaction of the Australia solar industry, and local and international renewable investors, after a result that puts the Labor government within touching distance of a small majority or at least a workable minority government.

The re-election of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in Saturday’s nail-biting poll will guarantee the medium-term future of the solar industry in Australia, along with several large-scale wind and hybrid projects, and some key storage installations.

It will also likely have a bearing on federal politics too, given that the Queensland Government is unlikely to approve a National Energy Guarantee that seeks to choke the level of wind and solar that can be added to the national grid, or reinforces the power of the energy incumbents.

Palaszczuk went to the election with a slender lead in opinion polls, but with 80 per cent of the vote counted on Sunday, was predicted to win 48 seats. She needs 47 to govern in her own right.

The result, along with a stronger showing from The Greens, appears a repudiation of coal-first policies of the LNP and One Nation, which voters seemed to understand would result in higher prices as well as being disastrous for the environment.

Palaszczuk’s re-election means 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 will remain in place, and the 400MW renewable energy and storage auction, which attracted more than 100 different proposals, is now certain to go ahead.

That auction made clear that there are some 9,000MW of wind, solar and biomass projects looking for development, and a further 6,000MW of storage potential – both battery and pumped hydro.

What will definitely not happen is a new coal-fired power generator – promised by the state and federal Coalition, and pushed for by a range of fossil fuel lobby groups in a series of extraordinary misinformation campaigns.

The idea, keenly promoted by the likes of Coalition MPs Matt Canavan and George Christensen, was plain stupid – as even the mostly fossil fuel-based energy body admitted. It made no economic or environmental sense.

What will likely happen in its stead is the creation of a third government-owned generation company, based around renewables and dispatchable power, which will ‘compete’ with the two big coal-dominated companies Stanwell and CS Energy.

It remains to be seen how that changes the bidding in the wholesale markets. Queensland has recently had comparative low wholesale prices, but only because the state-owned generators were instructed to bid low, rather than high, as has been their want, and ability, in a tightly controlled market.

And, of course, it also puts a further very big questions about the future of the Adani coal mine. Palaszczuk’s rejection of government funding might have been more convincing had it been made on the economics and environmental impacts, rather than concerns over potential conflicts of interest, but it may have finally done for the idea in any case.

What is certain is the Queensland will continue to become the solar state.

It already has more than 1.8GW of rooftop solar, and over the next 12 months will add some 2GW of large-scale solar – courtesy of a series of federal grants, state government contracts, and the falling price of the technology.

The Australian Solar Council, now known as the Smart Energy Council, notably funded numerous advertisements against the LNP policy in an unprecedented entry into election politics.

Most interesting will be the much delayed opening of the Lakeland solar and storage project put together by Conergy – it will be the first such grid-connected project in Australia, and the opening of the two big solar farms contracted by the corporate sector.

Zinc refiner Sun Metals is also building the first large-scale solar farm (116) to meet some of its energy needs, and this is being followed by the Emerald solar farm being contracted by Telstra.

Of more interest will be what follows: potentially the huge Kennedy wind-solar-storage park that could amount to 1200MW of ‘dispatchable renewables’, and the solar and pumped hydro storage hybrid plant planned for the former Kidston gold mine.

The first 50MW solar stage is nearly complete.

And there could be a solar thermal and storage plant for Townsville, and numerous other solar farms paired with battery storage.

Queensland was the first of four states that will go to the polls in the next 12 months and three of them – Queensland, South Australia and Victoria – have ambitious renewable energy policies that, in the absence of any federal initiative, are critical to the future of renewables in Australia.

Victoria has legislated a 40 per cent renewable energy target by 2025, and is holding a 650MW renewable energy auction, while South Australia, which goes to the polls in March, is already at 50 per cent but aiming to go higher.

One down. Two to go.

This article was first published in RenewEconomy and is reproduced here with permission.

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