In Queensland, 2700 direct jobs would be created if 10 new solar farm projects currently under consideration by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency go ahead. That’s real jobs for Queenslanders in helping create the inevitable transition to a clean energy future.
Yet, at the same time, the federal government has plans to strip $1 billion from ARENA’s budget, effectively snuffing out the prospects for thousands of new jobs in large scale future solar projects, including in the sunniest state in Australia.
Queenslanders love their natural solar advantage – so much so that almost 30 per cent of households now have solar PV installed (473,000 installations) – the highest of any Australian state. Despite this, owing largely to lack of leadership and short-sightedness from our national government, solar currently only meets 4.4 per cent of the state’s energy needs – lagging woefully behind South Australia’s 40 per cent.
The reality is that Queensland is ideally situated to be a world leader in solar power, and Queenslanders themselves have embraced this – but this great potential is currently not yet being harnessed through big solar farms. Slashing funding to ARENA will further stymie this potential – right at the time we should be advancing it.
There are signs the Queensland government is keen to get on board the clean energy jobs boom – having committed to target of getting 50 per cent of the state’s energy from renewables by 2030. It has even appointed an expert panel that is conducting a process of public consultation to see how this might best be achieved.
Well, here is an idea about how to achieve that target and create thousands of new jobs along the way.
Late last year ARENA announced $100 million in grants for large scale solar projects. It received 77 expressions of interest from local and international solar companies from which it shortlisted 22 standout applications – 10 of those were proposals in Queensland, mostly in the north of the state.
Research by the Australian Conservation Foundation has found that if these 10 projects were funded they would create 2695 direct jobs for Queenslanders.
Compare just these 10 solar projects with the Adani coal mine – that would only generate an estimated 1,400 jobs while creating 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon pollution over the mine’s lifetime and threaten the 70,000 jobs that rely on a healthy Great Barrier Reef.
While the federal government’s proposed $1 billion cut may not affect all these projects as the $100 million tender still stands, cutting funding and functions from ARENA now doesn’t bode well for future potential jobs growth in the renewable energy sector.
It represents a leap in the wrong direction just at the moment we should be rapidly building up our renewable energy sector to meet Australia’s Paris climate commitments.
Queenslanders understand that big solar means a potential jobs boom for the sunshine state, but the Turnbull government’s proposal to cut ARENA’s budget and remove its grant-making function would stifle innovative clean energy projects and jobs.
The irony is that the Federal Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has acknowledged that Australia’s economy is in transition away from the old polluting, carbon-intensive fossil fuel industries of the past. ARENA was established to stimulate Australia’s renewable energy sector and it has proven to be remarkably effective at doing just that.
Australia is currently missing out on the global renewable energy boom. Internationally $28 trillion will be invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency over the next two decades – more than coal, oil and gas combined, according to a recent report Renewable Energy Superpower from Beyond Zero Emissions.
In addition to this, at least $2.3 trillion is invested every year by energy intensive industries looking for cheap, reliable energy. Australia will be the natural home for these industries and investment if the government acts fast.
That’s why now is not the time to be defunding ARENA or stripping it of its grant-making power. Queensland politicians who talk up jobs in coal but remain blind to the clean energy jobs boom and are not representing the state’s future best interests.
Clearly, the real future for Queensland lies in renewables, not coal.
Hannah Aulby is a clean energy campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation