Opposition to transmission lines ‘unjustified’, as renewable energy projects wait on infrastructure

More investment in transmission is required to get Australia’s stalling renewable energy targets back on track and match record spending on battery storage.

Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said the organisation’s quarterly report shows while there was an overall increase in investment activity, further action is required.

“While there is now strong political support for the clean energy transition, there remains a raft of barriers as a result of the historic lack of leadership, planning and foresight over the prior decade,” he said.

“These challenges make final investment decisions for large-scale renewables projects more difficult, and include under-investment in transmission, grid connection challenges, inconsistent planning policies, constraints in supply chains and workforce.”

Battery storage projects broke $1 billion in financial commitments for the first time during the second quarter of 2023, but commitments for generation projects during the first half of 2023 were the slowest since the council started recording data in 2017.

Professor Andrew Blakers, director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University, said more transmission is needed to bring solar and wind power into cities where the majority of the population lives.

“It’s getting the permissions to build the transmission. You might need to traverse 50 to 100 properties,” he said.

“You’ve got to be planning for the doubling and tripling of electricity production as we electrify everything and get rid of coal, oil and gas out of our energy system.”

Meeting targets

Mr Thornton said Australia is competing with global leaders that are accelerating their demand for renewable energy.

“There is an enormous pipeline of renewable energy projects in Australia, but investors are swamped with global opportunity at a time where these barriers make Australian projects less attractive,” he said.

“The critical development needed to achieve 82 per cent renewable generation by 2030 is not guaranteed unless we target the obstacles currently creating investment uncertainty for new energy generation.”

New financial commitments in large-scale renewable energy generation during the second quarter of 2023 totalled $225 million, more than $1 billion less than the quarter average over the previous year.

Investment in solar and wind farms has dropped in 2023, as projects wait for vital infrastructure. Photo: AAP

Professor Blakers said Australia cannot reach current targets of 82 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030 without drastically increasing the investment in energy transmission.

“We’ve got a 2050 target of zero emissions and roughly speaking, we have to triple electricity production as we electrify transport, heating and industry,” he said.

“We’re about 10 per cent of the way. We’ve got 25 years to get the other 90 per cent of the way and the developers will put in the solar and wind farms five minutes after the transmission is finished.”

He said to do this, state and federal governments must work together.

“The penalty for going slow is very high electricity and energy prices,” he said.

“The gain in going quickly is that we can get very cheap wind and solar in much faster than we’re doing now.”

Opposition ‘unjustified’

The installation of transmission lines for renewable projects has seen community opposition and the Australian government launched a review into their planning in July.

Professor Blakers said Australia is a “global pathfinder in solar and wind developments in terms of amounts per capita”, and risks losing that status if more isn’t done to address the problem.

“There is certainly some community opposition to transmission. I think some of it is manufactured and some of it is genuinely felt, but all of it is unjustified,” he said.

“We have an emergency. We need to decrease the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere as quickly as we can. That is far more damaging to regional areas through drought, bushfires and floods than the odd transmission line here and there.”

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