Christine Milne yearns for the time a Tasmanian government will learn the costly, destructive lessons of the past
Published in the Mercury Newspaper November 28 2020
WHAT is it about Tasmanian governments that they can’t grasp the idea of scale or cost benefit when proposing anything for our island?
Sustainable or appropriate scale is always jettisoned in favour of extremes, with every river, tree, building, mountain and estuary being fair game — no matter the debt or damage, 200 per cent higher, longer, deeper, bigger is always better than 100 per cent.
The 200 per cent Tasmanian Renewable Energy Target is the latest. It is “doubts removal” legislation to facilitate inappropriate scale, development at any cost dressed up as green. Even the government admits Tasmanians will not be the primary beneficiaries.
First came the dam builders. We needed energy to supply the population and so dams were built, but then “build it and they will come” took hold. Dam building became synonymous with jobs and progress, and it did not matter whether the energy was needed or could be sold for a profit, more dams were built and debt was ratcheted up. No river or valley was off limits until the Franklin blockade brought it to an end.
Then came the woodchippers. Touted as a way to use waste, chipping drove rapacious native-forest logging from one end of Tasmania to the other. It was a money loser, with Tasmanians subsidising loggers to fell forests, but it became a matter of principle, forests had to be logged.
Next came fish farms. From the 1990s, governments didn’t see an estuary or bay that didn’t need a fish farm with consequent marine pollution, debris, noise, seal cruelty, financially compromised local councils and loss of amenity.
Now it is extension cords or Bass Strait cables. To address the climate emergency, we need to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but in Tasmania we went in reverse. We abandoned 100 per cent renewable energy and polluted our clean-green brand to import Victorian coal power over Basslink because selling in the national electricity market was going to be a money spinner. We fell on our faces. Despite government promises of windfalls from selling renewable energy across the strait, it’s not returned a profit.
But never mind, let’s have more extension cords because this time, with no evidence at all, the state government says the gamble will pay off. This time, they say, they will create 4000 jobs and billions in profit. This time, they say, Project Marinus and Battery of the Nation will be winners because the mainland needs Tasmania’s renewable energy.
But the mainland does not need our renewable energy to be 100 per cent renewable. It does not need our energy to reduce emissions or balance the grid. It has plenty of its own cheaper, renewable energy projects closer to cities where it will be used.
Distributed large-scale battery technology has already leapfrogged Tasmania’s water battery. We have been overtaken. Victoria won’t pay for Project Marinus or Battery of the Nation because it doesn’t need them. Who pays?
Rather than say who will pay the eye-watering $7.1b for these projects, the Tasmanian government is legislating TRET. It is doing it to remove any doubts, from developers or the Australian Energy Market Operator, that these unfunded projects will be built, even if Tasmanians have to borrow to pay for them ourselves.
AEMO makes no judgment as to the merits of the policy or who will pay. It works on the assumption that the passage of the legislation means Tasmania will over-build renewable energy at its own or someone else’s expense and the surplus will be available to the rest of the NEM at low cost.
Progress to date has been debt-ridden. The government directed Hydro Tasmania and Aurora to buy wind energy at a loss. Granville Harbour and Cattle Hill wind farms and no doubt St Patrick’s Plains, Robbins Island and Jim’s Plains are not economically viable, so to remove any doubt about their investment case, the Tasmanian government props them up by guaranteeing them a market and a profit. Not only that, these offshore developers want the community to pay for their transmission lines and extension cords. Who wouldn’t be happy if the community guaranteed a market, a profit and paid for the freight?
Tasmanians shouldn’t be happy Hydro Tasmania and Tas Networks incur that debt. Every dollar loss they absorb means a cost to Tasmanians in power bills or debt, or in reduced health and education services through reduced dividends to the state government. Again, we are paying to destroy our own environment, our wetlands and wild places, and to put endangered species, raptors and migratory birds at more risk.
The state government wants to roll the dice and double the total existing Tasmanian supply of energy from 10,500GW to 21,000GW by 2040. This means just as our old bulk power users are winding down and freeing up huge amounts of energy, they want to build 10 new wind farms, cut down forests for transmission corridors, build forest furnaces and enough new physical infrastructure to double the output of the Hydro system. All this with no guaranteed market or cost sharing in place.
We don’t need the energy, we won’t make a profit, we don’t get a climate benefit, and we destroy intact ecosystems — all for nothing.
It is industrialising and re-engineering the landscape of the North.
Surely it is time for Tasmanians to be mindful of the scale and special character of our island and be a brilliant, natural 100 per cent renewable instead of a failed, debt-ridden 200 per cent.
If we have got $7.1b to spend, let’s spend it on something that benefits us all. Christine Milne, AO, is the former leader of the Tasmanian and Australian Greens parties. She has been an environmental activist since the Wesley Vale pulp mill protest in the 1980s.