Leading the way in renewables
CLIMATE change guru Al Gore must've thought he was in a pretty weird place this week when he arrived "Down Under”.
The former US presidential candidate is staging his Climate Reality Project's Leadership Corps program in Queensland at the behest of the Palaszczuk Government.
Gore's forum is being bankrolled by Queensland taxpayers to the tune of $320,000, which has been chipped in to cover venue hire costs and to employ a local event organiser.
Yet this is the same state being pilloried by its southern neighbours for being "bogans” and backwards on the issue of climate change because it approved a thermal coal mine.
The irony wouldn't be lost on Gore that these accusations are coming from states like New South Wales which routinely takes Queensland's coal-fired power while failing to set a renewable energy target of its own.
The same criticisms are also coming from the state that likes to boast about how progressive it is, Victoria, while it continues to produce power from the dirtiest energy source of all, brown coal.
And neither of these states are willing to exploit their gas reserves, despite this fuel being used around the world as a bridging source to aid the transition to clean energy.
If Gore thought climate politics was vexed in the United States, he might need to reassess after coming to Queensland.
Yet despite all the condemnation and grandstanding coming from the denizens of elsewhere in Australia, the Sunshine State has arguably the best platform for energy transition in Australia.
Queensland fills six of the top 10 rooftop solar postcodes in Australia, by number of installations.
And it's Bundaberg that tops the nation's list with the most homes, 12,620 installations, with a capacity of 47,500kW.
The region also has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of large-scale commercial solar farms either under construction or approved for construction.
The most recent of which were approved just last week, one at Innes Park and another along Childers Rd at Kensington.
The Palaszczuk Government's plan for Queensland to use 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 has spawned billions of dollars of investment in solar, wind and hydro plants across the state. This is on top of being a world leader in rooftop solar installations.
Unlike South Australia, Queensland hasn't just marched ahead with vainglorious hope that other states will supply its power when intermittent renewable sources can't produce enough energy.
We maintain the youngest fleet of coal and gas-fired generators in the country.
However, there are signs the Palaszczuk Government's progress has stalled.
Its reverse auction for 400 megawatts of renewable energy capacity with storage solutions has been in limbo since 79 proponents lodged 115 proposals back in September 2017.
More than 30 bids were submitted to build the Clean Energy Hub, a network of transmission lines in north Queensland that will connect a string of proposed renewables projects, in the same month.
Why have these projects ground to a halt? Energy Minister Anthony Lynham won't say.
But there's a fair chance the uncertainty of energy policy coming out of Canberra has played a part.
So has the Palaszczuk Government's move to wilt to union demands to create a State-owned renewable energy company, CleanCo, a decision that must now surely be reconsidered.
However, perhaps the most pervading problem, particularly for the Clean Energy Hub, are the costs caused by the remote location.
Innovative proposals like the Kidston solar and pump hydro will exploit what the Australian Energy Market Operator has identified as some of the nation's best renewables sources.
But these projects create supply where there's currently no growth in demand and the loss factor of transporting this energy a vast distance to the southeast corner makes it very expensive.
These issues mean there's a risk that the Clean Energy Hub will be rendered a dud.
However, the solution may not actually be that far away.
And it may work neatly in with another Labor priority, developing the North Western Minerals Province (NWMP) and turning Queensland into a world-leading supplier of rare metals and minerals, the kind that will increasingly be in demand to build solar panels and smart phones.
Mount Isa and the miners of the NWMP currently aren't connected to the national energy grid and pay some of the highest energy prices in the world.
Energy bills of residents are also significantly subsidised by taxpayers.
A proposal that shapes as a game-changer that could bring both the Government's objectives together is a $1 billion transmission line from Townsville to Mount Isa being pushed by leading north Queensland businessman John O'Brien.
The CopperString project would mean Mount Isa is finally linked to the energy grid almost a century after the region became a mining mecca, creating a customer base for the projects along the Clean Energy Hub.
Modelling conducted for O'Brien presents a compelling case.
"I've been involved in energy infrastructure investment in north Queensland for 30 years, and today we have the best experts in Australia working with us and the conclusion is clear,” he says. "The Powering North Queensland Plan is a fantastic vision, but it can't be delivered without CopperString 2.0.”
The Palaszczuk Government has got the essentials right for a world-leading renewables platform and future mining policy.
What's needed is the wherewithal and will to bring them together.
Maybe some free advice that Gore could offer while he's in town is that they should simply get on with it.
Additional reporting NewsMail staff.