Pro-renewables legislation nears

Australia's plan to increase the use of renewables by 2% before 2010 -- announced before the Kyoto climate change summit last year by prime minister John Howard as part of Australia's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- is moving steadily through the bureaucratic process. The target could mean up to 9000 GWh of renewable electricity from up to 3000 MW of new capacity over the next 11 years.

According to Phil Harrington of the sustainable energy group in the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) -- the federal agency charged with implementing the measure -- a workshop held last month in Canberra was designed to overcome "the last uncertainties" and resolve the "fine issues" of a target focused primarily on grid connected supply. The invitation-only workshop followed an earlier public consultation process and was intended to assist the AGO to deliver a final report to the government's Greenhouse Energy Group, composed of state and federal representatives, by the end of the year. Legislation is planned to be in force by January 1, 2000.

Getting close

According to Andrew Durran from the New South Wales Sustainable Energy Development Authority, the workshop overall delivered "a positive outcome" that is getting "quite close" to a final implementation plan.

Prior to the workshop, Harrington said the issues still to be defined included the definition of just what is a grid and what sources qualify as renewable energy -- a sticking point for the gas industry that wanted the inclusion of coal-bed methane. "There's now pretty much acceptance of the definition and that excludes coal-bed methane," said Harrington, adding the only question mark now is how to include large scale hydro, which plays "a very important role as a system balancer."

Harrington said wind will play "quite a significant role" because it is one of the most cost competitive renewables. This combined with continued interest in green power schemes will push the development of new wind projects, he said. Harrington acknowledged there were "certainly some issues" preventing wind's market access (story page 42), but that these would not be dealt with at the workshop. "The key thing to date is the co-operation from the electricity supply industry and the renewable energy industry," he said.

Expensive dismay

That co-operation is debatable. A participant at the workshop afterwards noted with dismay that groups representing the aluminium industry, business groups and some electricity suppliers all questioned the feasibility of the target. "The problem is that they virtually all -- except the renewable industry -- believe that meeting the target will be really expensive because they are comparing renewables against four cents a kilowatt hour for coal fired stations," said the participant.

Although some of the industry groups opposing the target place the extra cost at $5 billion, proponents say that Australia has significant opportunities to add new renewables in areas where the cost of supply is very high -- up to A$0.15/kWh in some areas. Here new supply by embedded renewable generation could be easily cost effective.

Another workshop participant said there was strong support for individual retailers to be given liability for meeting the targets, rather than this being the responsibility of a central agency that is paid for by retailers in a program similar to Britain's Non Fossil Fuel Obligation. There was also agreement that existing generators who upgrade equipment -- particularly hydro and sugar mill cogenerators -- should be included in the renewables umbrella, along with energy from solar hot water and solar-assisted heat pump systems.

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