If you like your energy clean and carbon free then you may be happy that a transition to renewable electricity is underway in Australia. Around the country a number of large-scale renewable power stations are under construction. In 2017 alone 4670 megawatt (MW) of renewable generating capacity was added to the national market. South Australia installed one of largest battery facilities in the world, providing reliable network storage. New technologies are coming online, such as solar thermal and pumped hydro that can be used during periods of high demand.
In North and Far North Queensland, there are a number of commercial scale renewable facilities under construction, and many more in the pipeline. Construction of thecontroversial Mt Emerald Wind farm west of Walkamin is nearing completion and will have 53 turbines generating 180 MW of electricity. Two large solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are being built at Lakeland and at the old Kidston goldmine near Georgetown. Additional large solar projects are proposed for Mareeba (announced in late 2017) and at Lakeland, a pumped hydro plant for the Kidston mine, and plans for a big wind farm at Forsayth. Rooftop solar installations are also very popular, and over 18,000 homes in the region have installed PV systems.
Customers in the Far North purchase most of their electricity from ageing coal fired power stations located in Central Queensland. The large distances means there are significant transmission losses from the Ergon network. This electricity is also heavily subsidised under the Queensland Government’s Uniform Tariff Policy and Community Service Obligation, which keeps power prices the same for all households and businesses. Electricity prices are skyrocketing because of network costs, so it begs the question - why is the government still subsidising inefficient coal fired stations in central Queensland?
There has been a lot of puff and bluster from the coal industry lately – and their friends in the Federal Parliament. Big coal is being phased out, a dinosaur technology that is being rapidly superseded and replaced by renewables that can provide the reliability and clean energy demanded by the community. The Far North has excellent solar and wind resources that could soon meet local demand and commence exporting to the national grid.
There is sound argument that governments should ramp up support for this renewable transition, delivering targets for 100% clean energy and scrapping the subsidies to polluting coal fired power. Households and businesses would also benefit from energy efficiency programs that help reduce consumption and lower their bills. Renewable electricity is now a reality, but we need to ensure that it powers a new era of sustainable communities - and not necessarily more large-scale industrial or urban development that lays waste to the natural environment. Renewable energy schemes themselves also need to have as small an impact as possible on the environment- and be on an acceptable scale for the local community affected.