Climate Change Alert: Queensland Renewable Energy Plan 2012 released - but fails to inspire - 13 Mar 2012

The Queensland Renewable Energy Plan for 2012 sets out the Queensland Government's current strategy to facilitate growth in the renewable energy sector across the State.

Announced on 14 February 2012 by Minister for Energy and Water Stephen Robertson, the plan is heavily focused on the development of solar rather than other renewable energy sources.

Here, partner Michele Muscillo and senior associate Tammy Berghofer outline the State's current renewable energy targets and objectives, and why they may leave renewable energy developers feeling uninspired.

Key points

  • While the production of solar energy in Queensland has increased in the past few years, the output from other renewable energy sources has declined.
  • The majority of the objectives identified in the 2012 Queensland Renewable Energy Plan are not materially different to the objectives outlined in the State's first strategy document related to renewable energy, which was released in 2009.
  • With a heavy focus on solar development, non-solar renewable energy developers would be forgiven for feeling that the plan does not encourage their future involvement in Queensland's renewable energy sector.

Renewable energy in Queensland

In 2009, the first strategy document related to renewable energy in Queensland was released. While some of the goals set out in the document have been achieved, others have fallen by the wayside. Since that plan was released, there have been significant changes in policy at the Commonwealth level, including the implementation of the carbon tax. As a consequence, the plan has been reviewed.

The 2012 Renewable Energy Plan applauds the gains achieved over the past few years, including the University of Queensland's solar photovoltaic project and the Solar Bonus Scheme. The focus of the 2012 plan is on solar development rather than other renewable energy sources. In fact, the new goals for non-solar sources of renewable energy in Queensland for 2020 shows those predictions have been significantly downgraded:

  • Wind power has been downgraded from 750 MW to 600 MW.
  • Hydro power has been downgraded from 200 MW to 167 MW.
  • Geothermal power has been downgraded from 250 MW to 5 MW.
  • Biomass power has been downgraded from 645 MW to 580 MW.

The new plan also reveals that the only increase in output that we have seen over the past three years has been from solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems. The output from other renewable energy sources during this time has actually declined.

An explanation for the downgrades to the forecast outputs has not been provided. While a number of challenges to renewable energy development have been identified in the plan, they are not significantly different from the challenges identified in the 2009 plan.

Objectives of the 2012 Queensland Renewable Energy Plan

The stated objectives of the 2012 plan are broad, as opposed to specific goals that were set out in the 2009 plan. The current objectives are:

1. to accelerate deployment;

2. to promote smart industry, jobs and investments. Reference is made to the Renewable Energy Industry Development Plan, which sets out the following policy priorities:

  • Renewable energy innovation
  • Skilling for a renewable energy future
  • Renewable energy zones
  • Best practice renewable energy regulation
  • Incentivising renewable energy development and

3. to develop stronger partnerships and links by:

  • attracting new Australian Government and private funding;
  • strengthening our networks and creating pathways for industry;
  • connecting with our international partners; and
  • engaging communities.

It is disappointing that the majority of these objectives are not materially different to the objectives in the 2009 plan. Despite the developments of the last three years and a relatively stable regulatory environment in State government, many of the objectives from 2009 remain outstanding, particularly in relation to the all important preliminary requirement for regulatory reform.

For example, while the Land Act has been amended to allow an additional purpose in State leases for renewable energy development, there are prohibitive conditions which attach to any Ministerial approval to add that additional purpose. Those conditions make it virtually impossible for a renewable energy developer to secure the necessary land access rights needed to progress the development.

While the 2012 plan appears to be a positive step for Queensland, the message to non-solar renewable energy developers is negative. The strategy is of no benefit if active steps are not taken quickly to implement the objectives of this plan, and to reinforce to non-solar renewable energy developers that they are welcome in this State.

In our view, the failure to take positive action quickly will make it very difficult for Queensland to reach its renewable energy goals for 2020.

For more information about renewable energy in Queensland, please contact HopgoodGanim's Climate Change team.