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Scarce Details, ‘Quid Pro Coal’ Undercut Australian State’s 17.7-GW Renewables Plan

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  • Mar 31, 2020

The Australian state of New South Wales has released a new net-zero plan that promises up to 17,700 MW in new wind, solar, and storage capacity, with the potential for up to 2,000 permanent jobs. But the deal carries a quid pro quo with coal, to the dismay of those pushing for rapid climate action.

The 10-year Stage 1 plan, released in mid-March, details how NSW will “leverage A$2 billion/US$1.23 billion in funds secured under a bilateral deal with the Morrison government to accelerate the deployment of the state’s first Renewable Energy Zone,” writes RenewEconomy. The NSW government has “identified a set of core priorities for the next 10 years of energy system development, at the centre of which is…state support [for] increases in wind and solar generation as it deals with the looming exit of its coal generation fleet.”

That exit will hardly occur overnight, RenewEconomy has observed—particularly given that the bilateral deal (described by the Australia Green Party as “a climate deal with the devil” and by RenewEconomy as a “quid pro coal”) involved the Morrison administration “securing a commitment from the New South Wales government to ramp up its fossil fuel industries in return for chipping in funds to support ‘emissions reduction’ activities.” 

About half of the monies pledged under the bilateral deal—around US$626 million—will go into a Coal Innovation Program, which will “support projects that can capture and reuse methane emissions released during coal mining processes, and the commercialization of new technologies.”

In addition to the 17,700 MW of new generation and storage capacity from three pilot renewable energy zones across the state, the plan promises “coordinated investments in transmission network infrastructure that will link the region’s rich wind and solar resources with the rest of the National Electricity Market,” RenewEconomy writes. Such coordination “could work to avoid the grid connection challenges that are currently plaguing some regions within the National Electricity Market, particularly western Victoria, which has seen projects delayed or curtailed to manage constraints within the local network infrastructure.”

In addition to the A$2 billion secured via the bilateral deal, NSW will be “looking to leverage as much as $11.6 billion” in private sector dollars to help deliver on the Stage 1 strategy. The plan’s authors hope the new renewable energy zones could eventually attract more than twice that amount, predicting “as much as $23 billion in private sector investment directed into the renewable energy zones alone, in new energy infrastructure,” RenewEconomy writes. 

But with implementation details put off to “a future date,” Adam Searle, climate and energy spokesperson for the NSW Labor Party, condemned the plan as “weak” and little more than a PR exercise.

“Every element of this package has been announced in the past—they have just been rebadged and repackaged,” he told RenewEconomy. “These measures will not cut emissions by 35% by 2030.” 

The longer state policy-makers delay real action, he added, “the longer it will take to cut emissions and energy bills, and give NSW the massive economic benefits that will come with decarbonizing the economy.”

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