The beautifully haunting Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuckle was born, lived and died in Brisbane.
So as we gather today on the lands of the Turrbal and Yuggera people, it is appropriate to remember her words:
“This site was ours, you may recall,
Before you came along at all.”
We do recall that. And in that vein, I celebrate and honour the elders of the Turrbal and Yuggera people and pay my respects to First Nations people across Australia.
Thank you for the invitation to be with you today for this much-delayed conference.
I’m glad you’ve persevered. Because we have important matters to discuss.
I’ve enjoyed my interactions with Energy Networks Australia in my time in the Climate Change and Energy portfolio. You represent the people who move energy around Australia, both electricity and gas, very well.
It’s the important matter of electricity transmission I want to focus on today.
Everyone here knows that transmission is the key to reliable, affordable power.
That’s true of traditional energy. When a coal turbine explodes in Queensland, it is transmission that brings power from elsewhere and keeps the lights on.
And it’s particularly true of renewable energy, which is cheaper and cleaner, but by its nature less centralised and more variable.
I’ve been asked to speak today on ‘how Australia can achieve net zero by 2050’.
My answer is simple – and I won’t be the only one to say it at this conference.
There will be no transition without transmission.
As a country, we have no trouble generating renewable energy.
More petajoules of sun hit our land mass than any other country, and our wind resources are also above average.
But we won’t be able decarbonise electricity, or electrify other sectors, until we massively upgrade our transmission network.
Transmission is the only way to bring more renewable generation online, to connect to storage, and to ensure reliability in a decentralised electricity system.
You know this.
The experts know it.
And in theory, all governments in the National Electricity Market know it, because they’ve signed up to AEMO’s Integrated System Plan.
The ISP is a world class piece of work. Other countries would kill for a national blueprint to guide their transmission investments on the path to a renewable economy.
But I say ‘in theory’ because the current federal Government likes to have a bet each way on the ISP.
Angus Taylor claims to support the Plan, but mischaracterises efforts to actually deliver it as “gold-plating”.
The current Government’s approach to transmission has two features.
First, announcements are ad hoc.
Of the 13 committed, anticipated and actionable projects in the latest draft ISP, the Government highlights its support for five.
It’s not clear why those five projects and not the other eight.
But in any case, there is no standing opportunity for proponents or jurisdictions to seek Commonwealth support.
And there is no competitive process by which the merits of Commonwealth support for one project can be weighed against another.
So that’s the first feature of the current Government’s approach – ad hoc announcements.
The second is a failure to deliver on them.
Even where it has announced support, the Government has demonstrably not done enough to help proponents and regulators move projects forward.
Take Marinus Link between Tasmania and the mainland.
The then-Turnbull Government first announced support for the project in April 2016 – six years ago.
Scott Morrison has made at least two further announcements of support, including shortly before the 2019 election.
Another announcement before the upcoming election is a safe bet.
But little has been delivered. In fact, the draft ISP shows that Marinus Link has slipped by at least two years.
Or take HumeLink.
Taxpayers are spending billions to build Snowy 2.0 – and rightly so. It’s an important project.
But under Scott Morrison, its full capacity probably won’t be connected to the grid for several years after it is built.
This is an unfathomable level of incompetence from the Federal Government: Snowy 2.0 is the Government’s landmark energy infrastructure project, and yet they haven’t done the necessary work to properly connect it to the grid.
That’s a damning example of a government approach to transmission that is uncoordinated and inadequate.
There is a better way – for transmission in particular, and the energy transformation in general.
In December, Anthony Albanese and I announced Labor’s climate and energy policy – our Powering Australia plan to cut power prices, create jobs and reduce emissions.
In electricity, the centrepiece of our plan is Rewiring the Nation - a $20 billion investment to deliver the ISP.
States, proponents and AEMO say these projects will be built.
The question now is when, and at what cost.
Rewiring the Nation will partner with industry and provide low-cost finance to deliver the ISP sooner and cheaper.
It will also be able to support projects in other grids, such as Western Australia's South West Interconnected System.
Instead of ad hoc announcements, Commonwealth support for transmission will be ongoing, with investment decisions guided by independent experts.
Projects that are delivered with Commonwealth support will be cheaper than they would have been otherwise, with those savings passed on to households and businesses.
And Rewiring the Nation will unlock more renewables, which are the cheapest form of new energy.
Our plan has been modelled by Australia’s leading energy economists, RepuTex – the same firm that helped the current Government model its 2030 target.
By allowing solar and wind to compete properly in a 21st Century grid, RepuTex models that Rewiring the Nation will grow the renewable share of the NEM to 82 per cent by 2030.
That will make an important contribution to Labor’s national emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030.
And just as importantly, Rewiring the Nation will cut average household electricity bills across the NEM by $275 by 2025, compared to today.
Industrial consumers will save $63 per megawatt hour by 2030.
RepuTex also models that Rewiring the Nation will create hundreds of thousands of jobs – some in building transmission and the renewable projects it unlocks, and many thanks to cheaper electricity across the economy.
I’ve had good early discussions with many of you on Rewiring the Nation, and I look forward to working with you on its implementation if we form Government in May.
Now, financing is a vital piece of the transmission puzzle.
But everyone here knows that we also need to improve the way we plan and approve transmission projects.
A near-total rebuild of the grid comes with challenges, particularly for the communities where projects will be built.
We are seeing that right now in relation to the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project, as well as the HumeLink project.
It would be easy, but wrong, to dismiss those concerns as just NIMBYism.
In my experience, most concerned community members are not anti-renewables, anti-transmission or anti-progress. Nor, in most cases, are they opposed to the projects going ahead if their concerns are addressed.
They see the need to get renewables into the grid. But they also see the local economic, social and environmental impacts of these projects as too high.
Those communities make a legitimate argument that they weren’t consulted until the die was cast.
They know the areas impacted better than any of us - better than the regulators, better than the proponents – and should have their voices heard about how the projects can best be implemented.
And while those communities can imagine the local impacts of the projects all too well, including on high value horticulture and other land use, the local benefits are much less clear to them.
In relation to the Western Victoria Project, those concerns have rightly been reflected by Labor’s Candidate for Hawke Sam Rae, and particularly by my Shadow Cabinet colleague Catherine King.
Both Catherine and Sam understand and support the need for new transmission infrastructure, but they also correctly give voice to their community’s concerns.
I’ll be frank. To me, the situation in Western Victoria has confirmed my inclination that the RIT-T process is no longer fit for purpose, especially when you consider the massive scale of transmission upgrades we have to complete over the next decade.
The RIT-T process was designed for network augmentations, not major new builds or rebuilds.
It’s vital that we learn that lesson, because without social licence, we will struggle to deliver the ISP, or the renewable economy it is designed to unlock.
Community concerns lead to delays, separate processes, and frankly cause grief for everyone concerned: communities, proponents, regulators and governments.
There has to be a better way.
I welcome efforts like the Energy Charter’s work with the National Farmers Federation on landholder and community engagement.
But those efforts should be the norm, not just best practice.
They should be required and supported by a process that is fit-for-purpose for delivering the ISP.
And so today, I announce that an Albanese Labor Government would work with the states, market bodies, networks, and most importantly communities, to improve the RIT-T process.
And I announce three directions for reform.
First, affected communities should be heard much more clearly in the RIT-T process, and indeed throughout transmission planning.
That should include genuine engagement from the start, not the end, of the process.
As I said before, community members will often have well-informed views about where and how a project can best be implemented.
For example, they may know how to minimise impacts on their landscapes by using existing easements for wires and industrial precincts for transfer terminals.
We should also consider new models to ensure that local impacts are matched by local benefits.
Not so long ago, wind farms faced a similar battle to secure social licence.
Ongoing payments to landholders, and benefit-sharing with communities, have helped to win that battle.
We should at least clearly allow the same for transmission projects, where the project proponent and the affected landowners agree this will help.
Second, the RIT-T process should better capture social and economic benefits.
It is appropriate that the process is focussed on cost. But it should also consider value.
AEMO has flagged this reform direction itself.
It says that future ISPs could consider benefits like “regional economic and jobs growth, the full societal value of emission reductions, and resilience and adaptation for more extreme climate events”.
After recent weeks and years, the value of resilience in particular should be obvious.
The RIT-T process should at least consider such benefits.
And governments can play a role. We have already committed, for example, that Rewiring the Nation will support local content and labour wherever possible.
Third, the RIT-T process should be no longer or more onerous than is necessary.
Networks know better than anyone that the current process can delay projects unreasonably.
And governments know it too. That’s why New South Wales and Victoria have now given themselves powers to circumvent the RIT-T process when necessary.
When she introduced those powers in Victoria, my friend Lily D’Ambrosio said they were “a result of the inability of the current national regulatory framework to effectively address the pressing and unprecedented challenges affecting Victoria’s electricity system”.
She also said that “the Victorian Government will continue to
advocate for changes to the national framework to ensure that it is effective and fit for purpose”.
A federal Labor Government would do the same.
I don’t pretend that the improvements I’ve suggested today would be quick or easy. Reform never is.
Nor do I believe that every proposed new transmission line will become non-controversial overnight, because they won’t.
But a better process will give us the best chance of delivering major upgrades to transmission, which are so necessary, while treating our fellow Australians who are directly impacted by the new infrastructure with the respect and consideration they deserve as citizens.
I believe these improvements are essential to delivering the ISP, and with it, Australia’s energy transition.
I look forward to working with you to make that a reality – and to your questions.
ADDRESS TO ENERGY NETWORKS AUSTRALIA CONFERENCE
18 March 2022