I rise to speak in favour of the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021, particularly schedule 1, which improves the operation of the large-scale Renewable Energy Target scheme, otherwise known as the RET.
Established under the Howard government in 2001, the RET is designed to fast-track the reduction of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector. The RET allows large-scale renewable power stations and the owners of small-scale solar and wind systems to create tradeable certificates for every megawatt hour of power they generate and sell them to electricity retailers who cannot meet their annual renewable targets.
Schemes like the RET are complex to administer and need close supervision to ensure that they work as intended. For example, the certificates need expert accreditation to make sure we accurately count renewable generation. We can write down whatever numbers we want on a spreadsheet, but the real CO2 emissions in the atmosphere do not lie. We must be as close to reality as possible. Certificate supply also needs monitoring to ensure the price is high enough to incentivise electricity retailers to transition faster to renewables in the medium term. The annual reporting deadlines also need flexibility to ensure well-intentioned energy retailers who meet their targets, on average over several years, can have any penalty fees appropriately reimbursed. Schedule 1 of this bill does just that.
We should be thankful the RET has survived, though. It was, after all, the coalition government who tried to gut the RET in 2013 and subsequently dialled back ambition. The RET has been key to ushering in the renewable energy boom in this nation, but there is definitely more room to achieve greater penetration through more ambitious targets. Without this we risk jeopardising our share in the profits of these historic levels of investment, particularly in the regions, the home of large-scale renewables.
Every year, regional Australians have to see billions of energy dollars draining out of their towns offshore or into the cities. Imagine, just imagine, the difference it would make if that money stayed local and was reinvested into our regional communities. That’s why I introduced the Australian Local Power Agency Bill, which would require any new large-scale renewable energy project in Australia to make the offer to local communities for a chance to co-invest up to 20 per cent in the project. That’s not ideology. It’s just common sense and really good regional Australian policy. In Germany, farmers own 10 per cent of all renewable energy, and everyday people own another 30 per cent. Imagine what that kind of local reinvestment would mean for farmers in a drought, having a substantial income stream that pays off year after year, rain, hail or shine, or for skills development and jobs for local people. We can’t let this golden opportunity slip through our fingers.
The regions are also leading the way in small-scale renewable energy generation, especially in the community energy space. Data published by the Clean Energy Regulator shows that an outsized proportion of the 4.2 million small-scale solar and wind installations that have claimed certificates under the RET since its inception in2001 has been in the regions. This wouldn’t surprise anyone who lives in the regions. It sure as heck doesn’t surprise me. In my electorate of Indi, this transformation is happening everywhere you look, from Yackandandah to Euroa. That’s why the ALPA Bill I introduced would provide funding and technical support for everyday communities just like them to fast-track the development of their own small-scale renewable energy projects.
Regional Australians, right now, are rolling up their sleeves and making up for lost time, and we should be backing them in. I can’t tell you how many people contact my office about exactly this—residential aged-care facilities, sporting clubs, schools, fire stations, councils. Everyday people are asking for advice on how they can put solar on their rooftop or add a battery out the back. They’re looking to save money or make sure they can keep the lights on in a crisis, and right now there’s nowhere I can point them. Grant schemes are piecemeal, and there’s never enough to go around, and these grassroots community organisations often lack the technical expertise to even know where to start.
With the right backing, local renewables could skyrocket, and imagine then what we could achieve under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme if we truly invested in local communities doing local renewable energy. We wouldn’t have to hide behind accounting tricks and targets so we could set them and try to meet them in any old canter. We wouldn’t need to do that. Like the gold rush before it, renewable energy could drive a real economic renaissance in the region.
This Friday, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy will hold a public inquiry into my Australian Local Power Agency Bill, and I invite all MPs listening to this debate on the Renewable Energy Target to tune in and hear from everyone, from local community energy groups to town mayors and the National Farmers Federation, who see this untapped economic potential I’m talking about and are going to talk about it too. Schemes like the RET are a solid start, but we cannot lose sight of the golden opportunities right before us.