NSW Premier Mike Baird (left) and Environment Minister Rob Stokes: fans of renewables. Photo: Louise Kennerley
The NSW government has broken ranks with conservative counterparts in Canberra and the other states by declaring its strong support for the national renewable energy target.
Unlike other Coalition leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mike Baird makes clear in his government's submission to the federal RET review that renewable energy benefits consumers, helps energy security by diversifying sources and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
The NSW submission notes the fixed target - now at 41,000 gigawatt-hours of clean energy sources by 2020 - last year cost households in the state about $40. That sum, though, was offset by the effect renewable energy had on driving down wholesale electricity prices, the report said. ''The RET is good for NSW consumers and households - it ultimately saves money,'' said Amy Kean, the state's renewable energy advocate, who helped prepare the submission.
'Offensive' windfarm in Joe Hockey's sights. Photo: Jay Cronan
The state also has a lot of jobs and investment at stake - some 8395 megawatts of capacity worth about $13 billion are ''progressing through the planning system'', the report said.
The declaration of support is likely to be welcomed by an industry which has few outspoken supporters in conservative ranks.
Mr Baird's predecessor, Barry O'Farrell, did not make a submission to the previous RET review less than two years ago, and was no fan of wind farms.
''If you're the bloke next door [to a wind farm], you're very unhappy because of not just the impact on your property but also in some cases [the] impact upon health and amenity,'' Mr O'Farrell said on commercial radio in 2011.
Mr Abbott, too, has spoken out about significant impacts on electricity prices from the RET – a view the clean energy industry has disputed. Treasurer Joe Hockey earlier this month railed against “utterly offensive” wind farms he views on his drive into Canberra.
The NSW submission, though, recognises that an unexpected decline in energy demand means the goal of 20 per cent renewable energy by the decade's end is likely to be exceeded. It recommends delaying the 41,000 gigawatt-hour target, although it notes that ''a floating target may increase instability for market participants''.
"If the Commonwealth intends to reform the RET, the 41,000 gigawatt-hour target should remain until such time as it represents 20 per cent of electricity generation," Environment Minister Rob Stokes said.
"The timeframe for the target should provide industry certainty and a realistic investment period for attracting finance," he said. “Together, the reforms proposed in the submission promote greater certainty for business; lower costs for customers; a competitive energy market; and energy security through diversification.”
The submission says projects that have met certain conditions - such as having progressed to a financial close by a particular date - could be given special consideration in any reformed RET, ''given the significant amount of effort that has already been expended in good faith''. Further reviews should also be held only every five years to bolster certainty, the NSW government said.
Analysts such as Hugh Saddler at Pitt & Sherry warn that any tinkering of the target is likely to stall new investments.
''The problem about postponing to an undefined date [is it] makes it uncertain again as to when the investments will be required,'' he said. ''Once you get away from a fixed amount of gigawatt-hours in a fixed year, you're immediately bringing back uncertainty because it depends on demand growth.''