Report on the Energy (Renewables Transformation and Jobs) Bill 2023, soon to be released in Queensland – Renewables

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The Transport and Resources Committee, billed as “crucial in the delivery of the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan”, will soon deliver its report on The Energy (Renewable Transition and Jobs) Bill 2023.

With this in mind, it is time to revisit the Bill which was introduced to the Queensland Parliament on 24 October 2023 following weeks of consultation on the draft published in June 2023.

The main purposes of the bill

The main purposes of the bill are listed as follows:

  • increasing the amount of electricity generated in Queensland from renewable energy sources

  • facilitating and supporting the efficient and coordinated expansion of Queensland’s national transmission grid to accommodate increased electricity generation from renewable energy sources in a safe, secure, reliable and cost-effective manner

  • providing support and advocacy for energy workers and communities affected by increased electricity generation from renewable energy sources.

How the goals are to be achieved

The draft law states that these goals will be achieved primarily by:

  • setting renewable energy targets for electricity generation in Queensland as:

    • 50% by 2030

    • 70% by 2032

    • 80% by 2035

  • the minister is preparing a public ownership strategy that sets the following goals:

    • 100% ownership of transmission and distribution assets

    • 100% ownership of deep reservoirs (defined as pumped water reservoirs with a production capacity of at least 1500 MW)

    • a target equal to or greater than 54% ownership of productive assets

  • ensuring the identification and construction of priority transmission investments by introducing a statutory mandate for the Minister to develop an infrastructure plan for the identification and planning of major electricity and infrastructure projects

  • ensuring:

    • declaration of renewable energy zones

    • development and operation of transmission networks in renewable energy zones

    • coordinated and streamlined connection and access to transmission networks in renewable energy zones

  • occupational safety guarantee fund for employees and contractors at publicly owned coal-fired power plants and other prescribed facilities to provide training or access to employment creating opportunities and other benefits as a result of changes in operation

  • establishment:

    • Queensland Energy System Advisory Board among others:

    • prepare an annual progress report

    • provide advice or recommendations to the Minister

  • Energy Industry Council to consult and provide advice to the Minister

  • Queensland Renewable Energy Jobs Advocate among others:

    • to provide advice to the Minister

    • to do research

    • consult with businesses and other entities.

Feedback for the committee

During the submission period, which ended on 10 January 2024, the committee received 48 submissions from a wide range of entities, including the Australian Sugar Milling Council, the Climate Council of Australia and the Australian Law Society. The filing raised a number of significant concerns, including the following.

  • The Bill allows Powerlink and the Queensland Government to make significant investment decisions. However, the new framework does not guarantee transparency and rigor for the review of these decisions.

  • Once an area is declared a renewable energy zone, the changes give unrestricted rights to energy companies and the minister to infringe on property rights by giving private energy projects access to the transmission grid through compulsory land acquisition.

  • Communities will suffer under this plan, with most job retention provided through relocation packages. This would mean a decline in the population of affected communities in Queensland, impacting Council revenue, school enrolments, funding and quality of education and the viability of sports and social clubs.

  • Possible impacts on energy prices and affordability for consumers, especially low-income households, were not sufficiently taken into account. The changes will disproportionately increase energy costs and increase the cost of living.

  • The social impact on communities, including visual impacts, traffic disruption, constant noise and environmental destruction, has not been adequately considered.

  • The bill specifically excludes certain communities and workers by limiting the scope to only “workers at Queensland’s state-owned coal-fired power stations” and ensuring that only those workers have “a secure future, choice and clear pathways and opportunities for employment”. By excluding the supply chain from the definition of affected energy workers, the bill creates a disenfranchised and unsupported segment of the coal mining workforce.

  • The bill’s renewable energy targets still fall short of the path to limiting global warming to 1.5°

  • In the explanatory notes, the Bill appears to acknowledge a possible breach of fundamental principles and that this legislation may conflict with Legislative Standards Act 1992 (Qld) but then seeks to justify the potential breach on the grounds that it is administratively inconvenient to go back to Parliament to amend it, including updating key definitions or standards.

Committee report

The committee’s report on the Bill is due on 1 March 2024. It will be interesting to see what recommendations are made to respond (or not) to the significant concerns from the diverse and wide-ranging submissions. We will keep you informed about changes.

© Cooper Grace Ward Solicitors

Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.

This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice specific to your situation and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues on which we would like to advise you arising from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward Solicitors.

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