New South Wales aims to be “Australia’s answer to California”, accelerating the use of renewable energy and finding new ways to curb waste, in a push that puts it at odds with Coalition counterparts in other states and at the federal level.
The Baird government says it plans to adorn as many of its buildings with solar panels as possible and ease the way for more wind farms.
The announcement comes days after the Abbott government secured its almost five-year quest to axe the carbon price and amid ongoing signs it will weaken the national renewable energy target (RET),
“We are making NSW number one in energy and environmental policy,” Environment Minister Rob Stokes told the Clean Energy Week gathering in Sydney.
“When it comes to clean energy, we can be Australia’s answer to California,” he said, referring to the US state's goal of achieving 33 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, compared with Australia’s 20 per cent-plus target.
Investment in large-scale renewable energy has all but stalled in Australia, with just $40 million spent in the first half of 2014, or about 1.5 per cent of the $2.67 billion invested in 2013, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Wind farm operators and others are warning they will abandon the Australian market for future investments if the mandated requirement of supplying 41,000 gigawatt-hours of clean energy by 2020 is ditched.
Mr Stokes said NSW was committed to the 41,000 GW-h goal - a target that was the federal Coalition’s pre-election commitment. Maverick MP Clive Palmer has said his party will use its balance of power in the Senate to block any effort by the Abbott government to cut the renewable energy target.
The NSW Resource Efficiency Policy will take advantage of the government’s scale - with more than half a billion dollars spent on energy, water and waste each year - to demand savings.
Investment over the next decade is likely to reach $290 million and deliver savings to energy bills of $55 million a year by then, Mr Stokes said.
“We are the country’s largest employer," he said of the NSW government. "We purchase 1 per cent of all new cars in Australia and we own half of all the land in the state – around 400,000 square kilometres."
All new electrical equipment bought by the state will have to meet at least the average energy efficiency star rating for each appliance. For dishwashers that means 4 stars or higher and 3.5 stars for small air conditioners.
The Energy Efficiency Council said it applauded NSW's leadership.
“Other governments around Australia should watch what NSW is doing and follow its lead,” said chief executive Rob Murray-Leach.
Improving energy performance was “a no-brainer”, strengthening the budget, as well as forcing through higher standards that build industry capacity, benefiting other parts of the economy, Mr Murray-Leach said.
Mr Stokes told Fairfax Media: “It’s never been anyone’s job in the Department of Health or Department of Education to go and look at these efficiency opportunities.
“It’s a big opportunity, we’ve got a vast building stock, and there’s been nothing to activate it.”
As part of the policy, the Health Department will be required to audit energy use for 55 per cent of their power bills by June 2018; other departments will have to audit 40 per cent of their bills. The rate will rise to 90 per cent by 2024.
In a separate nod to the renewable energy sector, Mr Stokes said he has recommended that the Environment Protection Authority treat noise from wind farms as it would noise from other mining and resources projects.
“I’ve asked the NSW EPA to consider the inclusion of the draft noise standards for wind energy projects into the Industrial Noise Policy, which is due to be finalised by December,” Mr Stokes said.
“This will provide clarity and certainty for wind farm operators, and will facilitate appropriate and responsible siting of wind farms in regional and rural areas,” he said
Opponents of wind farms have cited health effects from the spinning turbines that have not been confirmed by scientific bodies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Mr Stokes' proposal “would be a positive development, as the current isolation of wind turbine noise from other sources of industrial or occupational noise sends an unnecessary message that turbines are somehow deserving of special attention”, Simon Chapman, from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, said.
“Wind turbines produce levels of noise that are very much lower than common rural sounds like generators, chain saws, saw milling, tractors and road traffic noise,” Professor Chapman said.
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