Power Industry Restructure Needs Green Focus

(12.38pm 14 March 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

The Electricity Generator Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2012 provides for the restructure of the electricity generation industry and the sale of generator assets to the private sector through direct trade sale or public shares float. Debate about whether this infrastructure should be publicly or privately owned has failed to address the urgent need to restructure the industry to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the shift to a low carbon economy. Global warming is the biggest challenge of our time. Today we again are reminded of that by the most recent reports on increased carbon emissions. The energy sector is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, almost 80 per cent of Sydney's greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity that is supplied to homes and businesses.

Our future depends on a shift to greener energy. Failure to do this will be at our major cost. Recent floods, which climate scientists say will become more frequent as the planet warms, show the devastating costs of climate change. Restructuring the industry provides the opportunity to secure the future of our State and our planet. The most critical issue is how best to achieve a reliable, clean and sustainable power industry and the secondary issue is whether public or private sector ownership will better serve those objectives. Any shift in ownership or control of our electricity industry must occur within a framework that guarantees sustainability outcomes that are needed to combat dangerous climate change. The matter is far too important to be left to the market alone.

As a major greenhouse gas producer, the power industry must take full responsibility for its emissions. The legislation should exclude any additional compensation against the impact of a carbon tax or any protection from future carbon abatement schemes just to get a better price for the sell-off. This Government already has abolished the solar feed-in tariff scheme to new consumers without forcing energy retailers to contribute to the scheme and pay for the renewable energy fed back to the grid, which they on-sell to other customers. Environment groups universally agree that coal-fired power must be phased out if we are to prevent the acceleration of catastrophic climate change.

Coal-fired power is one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide. The generation of coal-fired power at remote sites is extraordinarily inefficient. It is widely accepted that we cannot meet emission reduction targets if we continue to expand our use of coal for electricity. We urgently need to wean ourselves from coal and begin the transition to decentralised power in the lead-up to a transition to renewable energy. I share widespread community concern that the sell-off facilitated by this bill could entrench New South Wales in a long-term reliance on coal-fired power because it is the cheaper and easier option. I support the call by environmental groups for a moratorium on new and expanded coal-fired power stations before any sell-off occurs. The privatisation plan should preclude the construction of new coal-fired power stations or the expansion of existing ones. If major investment in new power generation is needed, now is the time to switch to new green technology.

The Government should be aggressively promoting and investing in renewable energy, including solar, geothermal and wind power and allowing for cogeneration and tri-generation. It must set mandatory reduction targets and establish a major demand reduction program for homes, businesses and industries. Global warming, not ideology, is the most important consideration for the privatisation debate. If we do not have a planet with a future, everything else becomes academic. I am not convinced that the proposal will create a market that favours clean energy. While this is the case, we cannot afford to reduce our control of the industry and compromise meeting our climate change goals. I cannot support the bill at this time.