Labor reveals challenges ahead for decarbonising economy

Hepburn Wind Farm
Hepburn Wind Farm

The Australian Labor Party has announced it will spend $98.7 million across four years to develop a Community Power Network.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has unveiled a climate change policy that almost doubles Australia’s targets to cut carbon pollution. While the government has committed to cutting emissions by up to 28 per cent by 2030, a Labor government would go for a 45 per cent cut.

The Federal Opposition said it supports a market-based approach to emissions reduction, and recognises more detailed planning is needed to integrate higher levels of renewable energy into the grid.

Community Power Hubs will provide legal and technical expertise as well as start-up funding to help communities build and run their own clean energy projects.

The Community Power Agency’s Nicky Ison said there are more than 70 community groups across the country already working to create clean energy projects such as Hepburn Wind in Victoria and the Nimbin Community Solar Farm in New South Wales.

“The combination of 10 Community Power Hubs and competitive grants will support community energy in Australia to follow in the footsteps of countries like Germany, where 47 per cent of all installed renewables is owned by citizens and communities,” Ms Ison said.

“Communities play a hugely important leadership role in the transition to clean energy here and around the world.

“Community energy initiatives also play an important part in overcoming market failures that prevent renters, low-income households and apartment dwellers from accessing the benefits of household solar.”

Ms Ison said regional Australia stands to gain the most if the country embraces the global renewable energy boom.

“This policy is also a huge win for regional Australia, as it will support farmer bioenergy projects and help develop new business models that enable regional communities to invest in and directly benefit from large wind and solar farms. This in turn will ensure a greater share of the renewables investment boom stays circulating in regional and local economies,” she said.

The Community Powerhouses policy envisages a network of 50 Community Power Hubs, supporting local energy projects across Australia for a decade.

Australian Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said Labor’s climate change plan is a step in the right direction.

“The energy industry has backed an efficient, national and market-based approach to emissions reduction for the past decade, and today’s plan is a step towards that objective,” Mr Warren said.

“Importantly, Labor’s climate plan recognises the need for all sectors of the economy to reduce emissions while recognising the specific sectoral needs of transforming the electricity system.”

Mr Warren noted details still need to be worked through, however, and a number of specific proposals require further clarification.

“We are already seeing in places like South Australia that the integration of high levels of renewable energy into the grid is a major technical challenge. It’s one we must solve,” he said.

“Whatever the final design, this transformation will not be costless, requiring at least $230 billion in new generation investment by 2050, and a clearly thought through strategy to deliver the most efficient, durable and sustainable integration of renewable technologies into the grid.

“A successful climate strategy needs to provide clear and stable signals to allow the energy industry to sustain a substantial investment pathway for decades. The sooner both major parties can agree on this pathway, the sooner we can deliver a sustainable, affordable and reliable energy system for all Australians.”