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The Australian state of South Australia will have 500 MW of renewable energy capacity -- including 300 MW of wind -- within ten years if the recommendations of a new report are implemented. The report, "Toward the Renewable Energy Target for South Australia," also contains a plan to convert 40% of the state's water heaters to solar water heating by the year 2004.

South Australian Environment Minister David Wotton released the report, saying that "renewable energy was not some "grand plan for tomorrow," but an "achievable plan for today." However, implementing the Conservative state government's "achievable plan" to meet 20% of the state's non-transport energy from renewable sources -- a 1993 election pledge -- is described in the report as a "very challenging task." It further states that a 20% reduction in primary fossil fuel energy use in the year 2004, from 218 petajoules (PJ) to 175 PJ is "more economically feasible," with renewable energy introduced as existing fossil fuel based capacity is replaced.

About 40% of the 44 PJ needed to achieve this target would come from energy efficiency measures while renewable energy technologies would meet an additional 40%. These include 300 MW of wind farms, 100 MW of solar cells, 80 MW of solar thermal power stations and 100 MW of additional cogeneration. Boosting the use of solar water heating from the current 3% of homes to 40% would contribute 16% of the total and be achieved through financial incentives and legislation mandating their use in public housing.

Electricity from the first 30 MW wind farm is proposed to be available by 1999 with additional annual increments of 30 MW to be installed over the next decade at a total state subsidy of A$45 million for the 300 MW total.

The authors of the report estimated the overall strategy would cost A$88 million over the next ten years. Annual funding of A$10 million would be generated either from the dividends paid to the government from the Electricity Trust of SA (A$240 million in 1994/95), a "renewable energy levy" on electricity accounts of about $15 per annum, a fossil fuel levy which would raise tariffs by 0.7% or a carbon levy of AUS$0.001/kWh for coal-based electricity. However, the initial plan calls for only A$800,000 of funding to conduct feasibility studies in the next two years and A$44 million for the period 1999-2003 for 160 MW of wind and solar power plants "if feasible."

The probability of meeting the strategy's targets remains a moot point. The chair of the reporting group, Keith Plastow, says: "We are talking about the future and talking about direction. If the direction is taken then there is potential to get the target." However, Plastow also says the development plan set out in the report would not meet the overall target, although efficiency targets could be met. Asked if this wasn't contrary to the minister's statement, Plastow replied "we don't make ministerial statements."

The report also calls for a "non fossil fuel obligation," similar to legislation in the UK, to be incorporated into the rules for the impending competitive electricity market. Plastow said such legislation was needed because South Australia acting alone, "would not be in a strong position" to achieve large-scale development of renewable energy technologies.

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