Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill 2020

11th November 2020

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:48:41): I state at the outset that it is extraordinary how much agreement there is across this House in debate on the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill 2020. While we have heard some differences, it is extraordinary that with such a major policy change for New South Wales there is so much agreement.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation in the Chamber. The member for Lake Macquarie has the call.

Mr GREG PIPER: I have to say that I broadly support the bill, but we know that some changes need to be made and they will be proposed by way of amendment by me and the two other Independent members in this House, Opposition members and through a Government amendment. As significant as this bill is for the Government in planning a way forward for energy infrastructure, I am concerned about a number of aspects. Many other members have spoken to those issues. I note that I have had discussions with the Minister about these concerns and I encourage him to share his response in his reply. I believe there will be changes that will be acceptable to most, if not all, of us in this place.

I flag that I will propose an amendment to establish a new renewable energy source [RES] in the Hunter region. However, that may be superseded by other amendments. The members for Sydney and the member for Wagga Wagga will also seek to amend the bill to improve the level of consultation required for infrastructure projects and better support communities with traditional energy production, as well as the private operators and workforces that already exist in those areas. There is very little dispute that energy production and energy markets are changing around the globe. I have made a number of submissions to the Government over the years stating we must plan for the inevitable transition that will be needed in communities that have been reliant on the coal industry for the best part of a century. In June last year I joined my Independent colleagues, the member for Sydney and the member for Wagga Wagga, in calling on both major parties to commit to a 10-year adjustment strategy for those communities.

I am pleased that the Government is taking a significant step towards adjusting the energy policy in New South Wales and equally pleased that the inquiry into sustainability of energy supply and resources in New South Wales is now well underway—I might add, under the chairmanship of the member for Sydney. My electorate of Lake Macquarie is home to Eraring Power Station. It is the largest coal-fired power station in Australia, providing about 25 per cent of the State's baseload electricity. As the Minister and others have already noted, Eraring is scheduled to close in 2032 as it reaches the end of its practical lifespan. I have regular meetings with Eraring's owner, Origin Energy. In fact, I had an extensive tour of the site only two weeks ago when I was briefed on, amongst other things, the company's coal ash recycling strategy. Naturally, the future of energy production at the site is often discussed and I know that Origin is looking at a number of options for the future of the Eraring site. It is supportive of the bill.

Eraring is not the only coal-dependent operation in the area. We also have the Vales Point Power Station at the southern end of the lake, which the member for Wyong referred to extensively. My electorate is also home to a number of mining operations run by Centennial Coal. They include underground mines at Mandalong, Myuna Bay and Newstan mine, which is currently under care and maintenance, and they provide opportunities for possible pumped hydro using those shafts. They are part of the significant coalmining industry in the broader Hunter region, which generates about $4.3 billion in annual economic activity. Coalmining alone employs more than 600 people in my electorate, generating more than $88 million annually in wages and supporting 262 small businesses in the electorate. Those figures are even greater in neighbouring districts of the Hunter Valley such as Muswellbrook and Singleton. The Port of Newcastle is the largest coal export port in the world.

All of this brings me to my most important point: The bill must ensure that we keep a spotlight on areas and communities that have traditionally been the State's powerhouse—quite literally. Without question, there will be many challenges and opportunities for future electricity generation due to things such as emergent technology, changing markets and the need to address climate change. Communities such as mine in Lake Macquarie, given the chance, are ideally placed to meet those challenges. The bill must recognise that and place a high degree of focus on ensuring that those communities, operators and workforces are at the forefront of this shift. We have three major coal-fired power stations in this region that will be closing within roughly a decade. Transmission infrastructure in those areas is already in place and the skilled workforce already exists. I acknowledge that the Government's road map talks about new investment, both private and through government incentives, in regional parts of the State.

We must make sure that this investment reaches the areas that will be most impacted by this shift. It is a plausible bill. It just needs plausible efforts to save and transition the communities that will be most affected by these changes in the years and decades ahead. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union District President Peter Jordan said this week that the Government is forgetting the people whose hard work has been powering New South Wales for decades. He will be right if we do not include those people and those communities in this road map. They must be the focus of any plan moving forward. The unions, just like me and just like the current operators of coal-fired power stations, know that things are changing and will need to change over the next decade as key infrastructure such as Eraring comes to the end of its working life. They are a key part of the future transition and must be treated that way. I again acknowledge that the Minister has recognised that and is moving towards that goal.

The Minister has said that this road map will create 9,000 jobs over the next 10 years. Although I note that most of those jobs are in construction and the number of ongoing jobs totals about 2,800. There must be enough jobs to replace those in communities where they may be lost as the energy sector evolves over the coming decade. If I can expand on one of those points. In electorates such as mine the debate is no longer an ideological one, and I am glad we have moved away from that. Regardless of one's views on climate change—although I have made mine perfectly clear—we know that the coal and energy market is changing and we know that the domestic market is also changing. Our coal industry will probably fair reasonably well in the short term but we know that most of the biggest export markets in China, Japan and South Korea are beginning to move towards renewable energy sources and, in particular, hydro. The local mining companies and energy producers are also shifting towards renewables. The unions know and accept this. Many of the miners and power station workers know and accept this.

It is a debate not about ideologies but about the need to act quickly on a transition plan for this industry and the communities within which it exists. It is fantastic that the Government is committed to delivering the three renewable energy zones. They will be rolled out in the Central West Orana, New England and south-west regions. I have therefore submitted an amendment to the bill that would see renewable energies only established in the Hunter region. I have been encouraged by the response from the Minister and the Government and remain hopeful that the Opposition and crossbench members are also supportive. We know that is the case. The Hunter region already has the workforce to transition infrastructure, the land and the private operators who will do it. I again urge the House to back those communities that have powered this State for decades and that stand to lose the most if this transition is not handled properly.

As I mentioned previously, an amendment from the member for Sydney will also ensure that these operators and communities are not left behind but remain the focus of this road map to the future. I hope it will be supported by the House. The bill will be a significant boost to renewable energy generation in New South Wales. It will encourage more renewable energy investment and provide a clear signal and incentive to private operators while reducing energy costs and power bills for households in the long term. We know that we must be more than a resource lucky country; we also need to be the resource smart country. I believe this bill takes an important step towards that goal. It will be a better bill with the amendments that are proposed. I say right here that some of the amendments I have heard Opposition members discussing are worthy of consideration by the Government. I hope they will be given serious consideration. I appreciate the way in which this House almost overwhelmingly is coming together in a like-minded manner to take this very important step. It is a paradigm change in the generation and distribution of electricity in New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.

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