By Queensland Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen Mick de Brenni
In the days before Christmas 2020, I inspected CleanCo’s hydro plant, surrounded by pristine tropical rainforest, set deep in the Barron Gorge in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
A few metres downstream, there’s hundreds of tourists preparing to take on the Barron River rapids. Onsite there’s a crew of just 13. It’s a small asset at 66 megawatts, yet it remains impressive in its simplicity, operating just as smoothly today as the day it was commissioned six decades ago.
There, I met an engineer who had started his career at a coal-fired power station 25 years ago. He recounted a memory of an Energy Minister past who he’d met at the beginning of his career. The former Minister addressed the workforce onsite that day and heralded coal-fired as the frontier of efficient energy generation.
Now, we have come full circle, as we enter 2021 considering the options for additional hydro assets to help the coal fleet underpin Queensland’s rapidly expanding solar and wind generation fleet.
It is for this reason that I feel incredibly humbled to take on the role as Queensland’s Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen Minister, to take custodianship of Queensland’s state-owned energy assets and support more than 3000 men and women who keep the lights on, as we deliver our plan for Queensland’s economic recovery.
The global coronavirus pandemic, which if you ask anyone that calls Brisbane home is by no means over (I’m writing this in the middle of our snap three-day lockdown to stop the UK variant from spreading), has put into focus the key tenets of the Queensland Government’s energy policy, which is to deliver cheaper, cleaner energy for Queenslanders first. And in doing so, support growth in energy intensive industry (like hydrogen and metals manufacturing) and the jobs it supports.
As I get to grips with my new role, I’ve prioritised meeting the energy workforce across our state’s diverse generation network. It’s these workers who are playing an integral role in Queensland’s journey towards 50 per cent renewables by 2030.
These encounters have reinforced for me the tireless effort of these men and women, that has meant Queensland’s electricity costs are the lowest in the NEM. And as the world demands cheaper, cleaner energy, these essential workers know exactly how to get there.
So, I see it as my role to ensure that Queenslanders can enjoy safe, secure employment in the energy sector, so that we deliver on our renewable targets, hydrogen opportunities and affordability and reliability obligations together.
Entering 2021, we know that our state’s shift to cleaner renewable energy sources is on track, so our challenge will be to develop and deliver a strategy to guide this diversification while encouraging investment and maintaining public ownership.
In doing so, our twin mandate is clear. Firstly, we make sure that we continue to provide cheaper and cleaner energy in a way that is equitable for all consumers, especially the most vulnerable in our community. The other is making sure that there are decent, secure jobs in construction, generation and transmission of our energy.