Second Reading – Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Mr PITT: I rise to talk on the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill, and of course support the opposition’s amendments. As a former resources minister, I’ve had some exposure to offshore structures. We continue to see from those opposite—I will give Minister Bowen, the member for McMahon, his due: he is 100 per cent committed to his ideals. He is an idealist, but he is absolutely not a realist and a realist is what we need in this space. The forecast we saw in the budget yesterday, as expected, and as we warned the Australian people, was a more than 50 per cent hike in the price of electricity. What has changed? There has been a change of government, there has been a change of policy, and we’ve seen brought forward changes in the closure of reliable and affordable base load coal-fired power stations in this country. That will be paid for by the Australian people. That will be paid for by Australian businesses. The member for McMahon, better known as ‘Blackout’ amongst my colleagues—he’s very well known amongst my colleagues; he got a good run in question time yesterday. I’d say to the member for McMahon: we need to look at some of the history here, and in particular some of the subsidies that have already been provided to intermittent wind and solar.

I had some research done by the Parliamentary Library, both on this bill and some previous support that’s been provided over a long period of time, and I want to provide some examples for you. To start with, simply under the RET scheme—I’m sure those listening would know what that is; it’s the Renewable Energy Target scheme—the LRET alone, between the years 2011 and 2016, resulted in $5,166,000,000 in subsidies paid for by either the taxpayer or users. Five billion. The SRES, the small-scale scheme, between the same period—2011 to 2016—was $5,485,000,000 for a total of $10,000,000,671. We’re without the last six years of data, we don’t have that data anymore, but it would have gone up substantially.

The Library says that, in total, at least $30 billion in subsidies and support has been provided for intermittent wind, solar and renewable energy. That is an incredible amount of money. You could build significant amounts of actual generation that works for $30 billion, without that additional support. So what we see is long-term support for a technology which is now considered mature, but that is not enough for those opposite. They need more to meet their ideals, and we saw Minister Bowen announce the 82 per cent Labor Renewable Energy Target. He said at the AFR Energy & Climate Summit that it will require 40 seven-megawatt wind turbines every month until 2030 and more than 22,000 500-watt panels installed every day, with 60 million by 2030.

This is my background. I’m an electrical engineer; I’m an electrician by trade. I’ve got a reasonable understanding of what it takes to do this work. This is not going to happen. It just will not. It is an incredible thing to put to the Australian people, and the result will be an increase in electricity prices. We’ve seen the budget itself identify more than 50 per cent. The people I represent can’t pay their bills now. Can you imagine how they will be situated when the power price goes up by more than 50 per cent? How will industry be competitive internationally when the power price goes up by more than 50 per cent? How will they be competitive when the lights continue to go out? The thing about intermittent wind and solar is that it provides intermittent lights and power.

These are real numbers. Rough and ready, wind turbines produce in the 30 per cent range for utilisation. On average, they produce 33 per cent of their installed capacity. For example, if they are three megawatts across a year, on average they provide one megawatt. At times they’ll provide three megawatts and at other times they’ll provide zero—none. At times when there are providing none the lights will go out. If you have 80 per cent reliability on an intermittent supply, then your supply will be intermittent. The lights will go out, industry will leave and we will lose jobs. We even saw forecast by federal Labor in last night’s budget that there will be an increase in the unemployment rate and that we’ll continue to see inflation going up. They said consistently through the election and up until recent weeks that they will drive up real wages, but the budget says that real wages are frozen for two years. You simply cannot trust them.

If we look at solar panels, utilisation of solar panels in Australia is around 22 per cent, so roughly a fifth. If you have five megawatts, then you will get on average one. At times you’ll get five; at other times you’ll get zero. This is incredibly bad for the network, because it means that not only does the load shift up and down—that’s what the demand is—but you now have the supply moving up and down. That creates huge instability. In electricity networks that means blackouts, because things trip. You can’t maintain consistency for frequency control, for voltage regulation and for a thing called system strength. You have to pay for all those. They are ancillary in existing equipment; they come for free. You get that because, quite simply, it’s inherent in spinning capacity.

These are just some of the things that have already been happening right around the world. But in terms of offshore wind turbines, I had some data put together, as I’ve said, by the Library. They’ve said that the first wind farm decommissioned—it lasted just 10 years—due to malfunctioning turbines. Two others had lifespans of more than 20 years. These are very new installations in Australia, and I’ve worked on a number of them. What we know very clearly is that whatever you put into the ocean corrodes. It is very difficult to maintain things that are in the sea. Ask any fisherman; ask any trawler operator; ask anyone that is putting things out there.

As I said earlier, as a former resources minister, I’ve dealt with a lot of offshore infrastructure and assets, and I still recall court cases and others where the claim was that ‘whales will run into them’. Now, won’t someone think of the whales! We have potentially hundreds of offshore structures. Will the whales magically determine that, because of the low-frequency noise from the turbine, they’ll avoid it? And yet, if it was oil or gas, they’d run into it! This is the type of nonsense that gets put forward by those opposite.

In terms of the construction, we find that they include steel, copper wire, electronics, metal gears and lots of oil—because you’ve got a turbine and spinning components—and the wind turbine blade is 93 per cent composite material: two per cent PVC, two per cent balsa and three per cent metal paint and putty, rough and ready. This is obviously from the Library. Each blade can be between 25 and 100 metres long. At the end of the life cycle of the asset, it has to be removed and you have to do something with it. Madam Deputy Speaker, I think this might even surprise you: the forecast is that, by 2050, a total of 43 million tonnes of wind turbine blades will have to be put into landfill. There are very few other options. That’s 43 million tonnes. Those opposite filling the ocean with turbines and towers that may or may not last their designed life. They are also producing enormous amounts of waste which can’t be recycled.

The member for McMahon’s proposal has been to change the decision-making power to him as the minister. There are very good regulatory authorities for offshore structures, which have been in place for decades, in NOPTA and NOPSEMA. NOPTA is for permits and approvals and NOPSEMA is obviously for design. That is what they do. In this legislation proposed by those opposite, those decisions are being taken away and given to the minister. I like Minister Bowen! He’s a very interesting individual, but I’m quietly confident that he has absolutely no idea about geotech, about engineering, about design for corrosion, about life cycle and about how to ensure things are actually looked after and not abandoned and left for the Australian taxpayer at the end of their life, which may be much, much shorter than expected.

This is fraught with danger, if we look at what is happening around the world and locally. As we’ve heard from other speakers, the proposal now is that we will see offshore wind farms in the Hunter, Portland, Bass Strait and Bunbury. I can tell you where the load is; it’s not there. The load is in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It’s in the capital cities, where most people live. I say to those individuals—to the member for Warringah, in particular, who’s very keen on this—there are some great spots for wind at Manly Beach. It’s close to the load, you can move it in nice and tight, you don’t have to transmit it, you don’t have to build transmission lines all over the country. Get out there and support this. You should be moving these things to offshore Sydney, because that is where the load is. It makes sense from an engineering and an economic viewpoint; it absolutely does. Less transmission means less losses and that means less cost, particular for the taxpayer. It’s an incredibly good spot to put them.

We see transmission plans—whether it’s offshore or onshore—right around the country as part of the proposal from those opposite. We are now seeing reports of payments proposed of up to $200,000 a tower. For those who might be listening to this discussion, there is a regulated price for transmission costs in this country. It is fixed and it is paid for by consumers. Every single piece of transmission that is installed in this country is paid at a set rate of return, and it is paid for by electricity users. It puts up prices. The concept that you will build thousands—in fact, more than 10,000—kilometres of transmission in this country with no impact on cost is wrong. It is absolutely wrong, and it will be paid for by the Australian people, by Australian consumers. We will lose businesses, internationally, who are no longer competitive.

Our great advantage in this country has been the cost of resources: gas and electricity. We have the technology. We have very hardworking individuals. We have lots of people who are out there investing in Australia, but they are walking away in droves because they cannot be competitive internationally at these types of prices. And nor will they be in the future—particularly if their business is only able to run when it’s windy or sunny. The utilisation rate that I’ve put forward in this presentation is accurate. That’s what it is: it’s in the 30s and 20s. We haven’t seen the big elephant in the room yet. This has to be backed up. If you have an 82 per cent intermittent wind and solar delivery system, you must have that 100 per cent backed up or the lights go out. It’s not that difficult a proposition; it is very, very straightforward.

It will cost a fortune. Even AEMO has said transmission alone is more than $300 billion. We’ve seen a commitment overnight from the Labor Party for transmission, for Rewiring the Nation, of $40 billion. You’re 300-odd short. And that’s just on what’s in the AEMO ISP—let alone all of these other things being proposed. They do not have enough money. They have not told the Australian people what it will cost. And it would be incredibly damaging to our economy.

Those opposite need to get back into the world of realism. Idealism is fine, but the Australian people have seen overnight that the budget is all about the ideals of the Labor Party. I was quite shocked by a comment from the federal Treasurer, reported on the front page of theAustralian this morning, about trying to ‘condition’ the Australian people: the Australian people need ‘conditioning’ to get used to these types of budgets. They don’t need conditioning; they need help. They need support at a time when cost of living is through the roof. They need support when they are losing their homes. They are sleeping in cars. And yet we see federal Labor’s budget not help on cost of living. Proposals are pushed out into the future. They have cut more than $10 billion from regional projects. I’m sure, Madam Deputy Speaker Sharkie, there are some cuts in your area that will impact you. These projects drive jobs, they drive the economy, they provide opportunities for employment. That is what matters to individuals who are trying to pay their bills, but what we have seen are increases in cost of living. We saw promises of a reduction of electricity prices, and instead they are going up by more than 50 per cent. We saw promises on real wages; instead, we see freezes. We saw commitments on infrastructure; instead, it’s all been cut.

The Australian people, very clearly, supported a Labor government—not in Queensland so much, but around the country—and I accept that. And they are getting a Labor government. It is a Labor government which will be managed by its ideals, not by outcomes. It will do things like conditioning the Australian people—’Socialism 101′. I just want you to help them. I represent some of the poorest people in the country. They cannot pay, and that has always been the case. We have enormous penetration of rooftop solar in my patch, and the reason for that is that people can’t pay the bills. They are literally turning off their fridges overnight, trying to find ways to save. These are Australians, in this country—it is outrageous. And yet we see more propositions for more things that don’t work and that will cost an absolute fortune for the Australian people. And the taxpayer will pay. That’s assuming they’re still employed. We see that there are going to be increases in unemployment over future forecasts, under a Labor government.

We haven’t seen anything to do with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. That still has to be approved. And many of these proposals will trigger the EPBC Act. We saw in the budget last night that the Environmental Defenders Office has been funded—that great bastion that takes all of our resources companies to court and shuts down their projects, like the Barossa gas project. Will we see them come out and try to save the whales? Will they take the $2 million plus a year, in perpetuity, and use it to shut down offshore wind because they’re concerned about birdlife? To be honest, they should be. I think that is at really high risk. These measures are environmentally poor. Since when were batteries environmentally friendly? It’s just incredible.

Those opposite are all noise and no substance. They are all ideals and no reals. They are all cost, and they are certainly not helping the Australian people. This will continue into the future under the government, because it is what they truly believe. Get out and talk to some people who actually have to deliver this stuff. It is not possible, it will not work, and you have not funded it or costed it.

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