Clean energy the clear winner with the people

COMMON SENSE: "We have the technologies to repower NSW with clean energy, but the political leadership has been lacking", the author says. Illustration: Steve Salmon
COMMON SENSE: "We have the technologies to repower NSW with clean energy, but the political leadership has been lacking", the author says. Illustration: Steve Salmon

For a state with endless sunshine and wind, the transition to clean energy is taking far too long.

Even though we’ve had the technology to massively expand the share of renewables in our energy sector for decades, NSW still sources only 3 per cent of its electricity from solar and 3 per cent from wind.

Part of the reason we are lagging so far behind is that outfits like the NSW Minerals Council have been using their significant resources for years to lobby governments to stymie clean energy investment and keep the dirty coal show on the road.

Last week, the NSW Minerals Council was up to its old tricks by trotting out the results of a “survey” designed to manufacture the illusion of community support for burning dirty coal in the valley for another 50 years. (NH, 5/9)

I doubt the NSW Minerals Council asked whether those people would prefer clean solar and wind to more open-cut pits, particle pollution and runaway climate change, which is the real choice we face today.

The truth is, if energy policy in NSW reflected real public opinion, our electricity system would already be renewable and pollution-free.

Poll after poll confirms that truly clean energy sources –  solar and wind – are by far the people’s choice.

Another recent survey showed 94 per cent of people across NSW want renewables to be our main source of energy.

Only 6 per cent want to continue with a fossil fuel-dominated system.

It’s just common sense. Why would we frack farmland or carve more open-cuts into the beautiful Hunter Valley when we could harvest sunshine?

Why would we pollute the air we breathe and poison ourselves with toxic emissions when we could harness the wind to turn our turbines?

There is so much to lose if we keep burning coal and gas, and so much to gain by making the switch.

If we don’t make the switch quickly the Hunter region could be 3.7 degrees hotter and 25 per cent drier.

Wildlife species will become extinct, bushland will change beyond recognition, and our coastlines will be reshaped by rising sea levels.

AGL has made it clear again, despite the claims of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, that it will close its Liddell coal-burning power station in 2022 and replace the generating capacity with renewables and dispatchables.

That means we have five years to build the wind and solar farms coupled with on-demand technologies like pumped-hydro, solar thermal and batteries to replace it.

These technologies, and the jobs that come with them, are already being rolled out across the globe at commercial scale.

The move from fossil fuels to renewable energy must happen in a way that supports communities most effected through the transition.

We need a clear plan for the inevitable transition, not politicians pandering to the extreme right by trying to prop up aging coal plants and spruiking new plants no one wants to build.

We have the technologies to repower NSW with clean energy, but the political leadership has been lacking.

It remains to be seen whether Premier Gladys Berejiklian will lead us to the new energy future the people want, or whether she will keep us shackled to energy past.

Kate Smolski is the CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW