Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

Second Reading

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:24): It is a pleasure to stand and rise to say a few words on the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, and we have had a few of these in recent weeks, including, still in the upper house, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Cross-boundary Greenhouse Gas Titles and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2021, which I spoke on last time. As on that bill, following on from the member for Mordialloc on this one, it is always interesting to hear those MPs who have no skin in the game when it comes to where generation is and where those jobs in the generation of electricity are getting up and lecturing us about those jobs and, in the case of the member for Mordialloc, talking only about the jobs in renewable energy and completely ignoring the jobs in the traditional sector, in the coal industry in particular in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland, and also, when we are talking about gas with this legislation, in the oil and gas fields that are a huge part of my electorate.

I will begin by reminding the member for Mordialloc and those opposite that I for one accept the science of climate change and accept the need to move towards a renewable energy future. I might say there were actually a couple of motions passed at our conference recently in Wonthaggi that identified that and pushed us towards that area, but we do it in a sensible way. We do it in a way that preserves the reliability and affordability of our power systems, of our electricity and gas systems, and indeed ensures that we look after those jobs and makes sure that there are opportunities for people going forward, not by imposing massive new taxes on organisations like the Hazelwood power station and causing it to close earlier and not by introducing policies that have brought forward the closure of the Yallourn power station in the Latrobe Valley. These are things that we need to be cognisant of, and cognisant that the costs of the change in our electricity generation in particular are almost entirely borne by rural and regional communities. There are no wind farms in Albert Park. There are no wind farms in Mordialloc. There are none in Royal Park. There are none proposed offshore in Port Phillip Bay. Those issues are all dealt with by rural and regional communities, and it would be nice if the government actually addressed that sometime.

There are some good things in this bill, and I reiterate that the member for Sandringham has indicated that we are not opposing this legislation. The issue of sandboxing, which gives the opportunity for the industry to develop innovative solutions, such as things like virtual power plants and community energy situations, is of course a good thing. Likewise, the changes in this legislation to allow blends of gas—so gas with hydrogen or biogas or any other type of gas that might be produced—to be considered natural gas for the purposes of regulation are good and will have some both threats and opportunities for my electorate—I will come to that later. There are also the issues with respect to transmission, and that is what I want to spend a bit of time on, talking about the renewable energy zones (REZs) that this government has proposed.

But what I am generally concerned about is that, like much in this portfolio, there is a lot happening, but a lot of it is driven by politics and very little by actual consultation with the communities most directly affected. Governments want all these things to happen. The government wants renewable energy, it wants new transmission lines and it wants new infrastructure. It does not really care who pays the penalty, and that can be referred to in terms of the rush to approve wind farms all over the state with very little care for the impact on local communities like mine, like those around the Alberton area, who fought very strongly and have actually managed to knock that particular proposal on the head, and likewise when it comes to transmission lines. The member for Ripon talked about this yesterday, but likewise I have a proposal under the government’s renewable energy zone policy to have a new 500-kilovolt overhead transmission line running from the Latrobe Valley to the Giffard area. There has been zero consultation with the local community on that, and it has got them up and about, that is for sure, particularly given this area was the same area that fought the Basslink pylons 20-odd years ago and unfortunately lost that argument. It is the same area that is dealing with a proposed 10 000-acre solar farm, which I support in principle, but there is a fair bit of water to go under the bridge on that yet. It is the same area that is dealing with Star of the South and its proposed transmission route up from the Reeves Beach area through to the Latrobe Valley, and my area is also dealing with the Marinus Link proposal, the second Basslink connection.

The question I really have for the government on this legislation, particularly as it relates to transmission projects and to its renewable energy zones, is: what is the detail? The government announced $540 million in the budget in November for renewable energy zones. So far we have had one network development paper that has, in the case of the Gippsland REZ, one page, and all it contains is information on this 500-kilovolt proposed powerline. If you look at the website of the department on this, the renewable energy zones are just big blobs. It does not give you any detail. There is just a blob that shows Gippsland. Gippsland could be anywhere. And perhaps highlighting the uncertainty on this, that one page that I am talking about has a map, and it says that the transmission line will run from the Latrobe Valley to Gippsland, which is a bit like saying it runs from Melbourne to Victoria. I mean, the Latrobe Valley is in Gippsland. The map that is produced shows this particular transmission line running to somewhere like Lakes Entrance, when in fact that is not what is proposed by the words, so there is this huge lack of clarity and detail. That has an impact on local residents. The government needs to come down and address that issue and explain how this is, and it must be putting any transmission line underground, in my view.

On the issue of the gas shandying, again, as I said, there are threats and opportunities for my electorate. Currently Victoria receives 90 per cent of its gas from the Bass Strait oil and gas fields in my electorate, through the Longford gas plant, and we know that is winding down. The production of oil has dropped dramatically. We know gas is getting harder and more expensive to find, and the gas that they are finding is more expensive to process because it is not as clean. So we know that that is happening. I was out at a gas platform only a few weeks ago, and it was one of the ones that is currently being decommissioned. So that process is going to continue over the coming decade.

But there are opportunities. I note that this legislation—anything that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change touches, she very rarely ever talks about things like the HESC project, which is actually being funded by this government along with the commonwealth government. That is the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project, combined with the CarbonNet project, which is carbon capture and storage, which is in my electorate, off Golden Beach. There is great opportunity for turning that brown coal in the Latrobe Valley into clean hydrogen and storing the carbon underground offshore. That was the point of the offshore petroleum bill that I referred to earlier. It always amuses me that the minister for energy herself runs a million miles from this. It is left to the resources minister to actually talk about it.

So that HESC project, if it can be commercially successful, will help us get a hydrogen industry happening in Gippsland and will give us the technology, the skills, the workforce, the training and some of the infrastructure. Longer term, that will lead potentially to us being able to develop green hydrogen. I know the Gippsland Renewable Energy Park, the 10 000-acre solar farm that I referenced before, has a longer term ideal of actually producing hydrogen from that solar farm as well. So this is a good thing, and ultimately if we actually look at the longer term as that natural gas depletes and becomes more difficult and it becomes more difficult to deal with the emissions in the future, green hydrogen and blue hydrogen, utilising carbon capture and storage, can actually potentially replace our gas supply. So we can potentially simply switch across and do that. That is what that legislation allows.

Look, there are threats and opportunities. I am not turning my back on the opportunities in renewable energy, but I do say to the government it needs to understand that there are costs—and those costs are generally borne by rural and regional communities. Yes, there will be jobs for us as well, but as our traditional fossil fuel industries deplete or are regulated out of existence in coming decades, it is going to be a difficult transition for many of us. So while there are some good things in this legislation, I do say that particularly with respect to renewable energy zones the government has not done a good job of bringing people with it. It certainly has not done that for rural and regional Victoria, and I so far see no sign of it doing that on energy more broadly. It needs to do a better job.

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