Tim Roberts | Making sure ‘added value’ keeps on giving

I had the great pleasure this past week of hosting retired 20-year veteran ACT politician Simon Corbell at the Institute. As environment minister he successfully implemented programs to deliver 100 per cent renewable energy for Canberra by 2020 through the development of 11 large-scale wind and solar projects in the ACT, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.  

Take-home message 1: that significant steps can be taken towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions if there is political will and it is applied in a way that meets public approval. Greater Newcastle’s population is about the same as the ACT’s. Let’s move to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy for our region. 

Take-home message 2: the adding of value to capital installations. Instead of the ACT owning the wind and solar installations, Corbell’s government offered 20-year contracts to buy electricity using a reverse-auction process that achieved the lowest possible electricity price. Written into the tender document was the requirement that the project would not only supply energy at the agreed rate but would bring long-term jobs to Canberra, even though the facility might not physically be in the ACT. 

This has led to the business offices of those installations mandated to be in the ACT, development of technician training courses for wind farm maintenance being established at the ACT TAFE equivalent rather than staff sent overseas for skill development, and R&D projects such as next generation battery storage being set up at ACT universities. Likewise, Newcastle must aim to ensure that capital installations such as light rail and solar farms add to the city’s long-term jobs through associated vocational training,  research and development grants and technology maintenance and management activities being locally based.

Professor Tim Roberts is director of Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle