Queensland had a busy ‘energy week’ with the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise’s (TSBE) Energy Summit preceding the 12th COAG Energy Council meeting in Brisbane last Friday.
Yet again, the mantra of ‘politics over power’ prevailed with a distortion of facts from both sides of the political argument. Meanwhile intensive agricultural producers, including irrigators and other critical sectors of the Queensland economy, struggle with unsustainable power prices and increasingly, issues concerning reliability.
Strangely, both events appeared focused on power generation prices, blaming gas moratoriums and exports, blaming renewables, blaming each other; noting last week’s request by Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg to the Australian Energy Regulator to investigate Queensland’s state-owned power generators on the allegation that they have been ‘gaming’ the system through ‘strategic rebidding’.
However, Queensland farmers are acutely aware that the rising cost of generation is only one component of the price hikes we have experienced. Queensland’s electricity prices doubled from 2007-08 to 2013-14. The price rises over the past decade have been predominantly driven by increases in network charges, which increased six-fold from 2004-05 to 2014-15, accounting for over 95 per cent of the total electricity price increases during the period. Concerningly, it seems generation prices are only just starting their unsustainable period of increases.
The National Electricity Market (NEM) is failing to deliver efficient Queensland electricity prices due to various market and regulatory failures.
An issue increasingly besetting renewable projects across Queensland is their siting and planning. Approved facilities and those already under construction are impacting farmers’ ability to farm their own land, reducing land valuations by borrowing establishments, or undermining the efficient operating levels of infrastructure.
At the TSBE event, Minister Mark Bailey acknowledged the critical work the Department of Energy and Water Supply is undertaking with the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) with regards to the finalisation of a Solar Planning Guideline. This guideline will ensure a more rigorous assessment of local government planning frameworks for large scale (5MW+) solar projects, including a technical outline for approving, developing, constructing and decommissioning large-scale solar projects and undertaking community engagement.
The guideline will support all stakeholders in the siting and planning of projects including:
- Local governments by identifying the range of impacts associated with large-scale solar projects that should be considered when undertaking a development assessment, including guidance on how to approach these issues.
- Project proponents by outlining the development assessment process, approvals outside of the planning framework (such as connection approvals) and a recommended approach to community engagement throughout the development, delivery, operation and decommissioning processes.
- Landholders and local communities by providing information on what to expect from developers and planning authorities the project’s lifespan.
Critically, it will be a requirement to adhere to the guideline as a condition on projects participating in the Queensland Government’s 400 megawatt reverse auction announced as part of the Powering Queensland Plan.
While QFF acknowledges the work of the Department and is grateful that it has led this initiative, we need the planning certainty that only a Code can deliver. QFF will continue to advocate for the development of a Code to ensure critical agricultural land and those land owners adjacent to these facilities are protected into the future.