The Palaszczuk Government is planning to develop and expand Queensland’s biofuels and biomanufacturing industries to help power the state move toward a cleaner, greener energy future and create more job opportunities.

Energy Minister Mark Bailey stated “the economic and environmental benefits of ethanol is recognised around the world and we want Queensland to be part of this sustainable energy solution.”

There is a push on now to require big oil companies to make available an ethanol blend in their fuel (particularly E10), according to recent media releases. The government will hold regional forums across the state to encourage industry, key stakeholders and the community to have their say about the ethanol mandate.

In addition to biofuels and bio-manufacturing, the Queensland Renewable Energy Plan (2012) lists the following goals for renewable energy in Queensland in 2020:

  • 600 megawatts of wind capacity
  • 167 megawatts of hydro capacity
  • five megawatts of geothermal power
  • 580 megawatts of biomass power

To achieve these levels of renewable energy delivery, large-scale projects will be required.

Queensland’s large-scale renewable energy market has lagged behind most of Australia’s other states in terms of large scale renewable energy investment over the past 15 years. Although the capacity of renewable energy in Queensland has grown since 2000, there are still unexploited wind, solar, geothermal and biomass resources in the state. From 2000 to 2015, Queensland has only increased its large-scale renewable energy capacity by 17 per cent, compared to South Australia, which has almost tripled its capacity (predominantly wind generation).

A recent Deloitte Access Economics/QUT study predicts bio-refining in all its forms could contribute more than $1.8 billion in gross state product to Queensland over the next 20 years, while creating up to 6,640 full-time jobs. The state government has committed to a renewable energy study that will investigate a 50 per cent renewable energy target for Queensland by 2030 and ways to create an export-orientated renewable energy economy. Combined energy (solar/coal; solar/gas; solar/thermal) systems have been investigated at various locations in Queensland.

In Queensland, bagasse and wind are the dominant energy source models. Bagasse is generally used in co-generation plant at manufacturing or processing facilities. It delivers major cost benefits to the owner/operators of these plants, as well as to the community as excess generated power is fed to the grid. Bio-fuels such as wood and bagasse pellets are other renewable energy technologies Queensland could develop and commercialise more broadly than current activity levels. The approvals processes for such opportunities can be lengthy, particularly when planning schemes and local law may not have considered the possibility of these alternative energy sources for industry or community.

Queensland’s low-density population (2.6 EFT/km2) is spread over large distances. Through traditional networks of power lines and poles, it is expensive to service the most remote areas of the state through the traditional grid approach of poles and wires.

Independent regional grids serve the Mt Isa region, while 34 small communities in remote areas have isolated generators and localised distribution networks. The recently approved Mount Emerald Wind Farm is another example of a large-scale renewable to be built to service a small community as a complementary source. Few communities have renewables as the primary energy source.

Commercial and industrial use accounts for around 80 per cent of total electricity use in Queensland. Heavy industry can be found in all major and mid-sized centres. New sources of energy, combined with Renewable Energy Power Purchasing Agreements could power operations in a more efficient manner. These sources include solar thermal, geothermal or wind supported by gas.

Many of the big energy users have extensive building stock that could be enhanced through the installation of solar and vortex wind-energy generators to complement building energy efficiency programs to reduce costs and emissions. Combination energy systems in an urban environment have the potential to dramatically change the energy market and deliver high-value/low-cost opportunities for businesses, big and small. The ability to “sell” power directly to neighbouring businesses is becoming a reality in many jurisdictions around the world. Power-purchase agreements are the most common forms of these agreements.

Technologies such as carbon capture and storage could also see coal-fired generators maintaining their market share over the next 10 to 15 years, as the generation aspects of the energy industry transition to more environmentally and socially friendly renewable energy systems that potentially reduce the need to expend billions of dollars on expensive ‘pole and wire’ infrastructure.

A different regulatory model is required that recognises these market and technology shifts where network businesses are competing with new technologies to provide better and more responsive services to consumers. There is potential for new technologies and models to help meet regional consumers’ needs over time without high capital expenditure, through distributive energy models (amongst others).

New, non-traditional service providers are starting to enter the market in competition with the existing participants. The lines between sellers and consumers of electricity will blur as consumers simultaneously produce, use, store and trade electricity.

In 2009, a lack of clarity on issues relating to land planning, land access, native title, royalty and fee regimes and environmental, noise and visual impacts, were identified as matters of concern that had the potential to hinder renewable energy developments. Regulatory issues regarding transmission and connection to the grid were, and still are, identified as serious impediments for large-scale renewables.

The decision by the Palaszczuk Government to approve the Mount Emerald Wind Farm on the Atherton Tablelands is an early indicator of the government taking action that supports the delivery of state plans in renewable energy. The (maximum) 63 turbine farm and ancillary facilities has an extensive range of development conditions imposed, and still requires federal government approval under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1990.

However the approval was issued only after the Newman Government “Ministerial Call-in” of the Mount Emerald Wind Farm project following a request from Mareeba Shire Council. The Ministerial Call-in resulted in a 10-month assessment process, during which the state government election occurred. These processes frequently result in a duplication of actions already undertaken by the local government during the development assessment process. There are high costs to all stakeholders, with developers having to carry expensive holding costs, and potentially increased financing costs, associated with the uncertainties of approval.

The town planning/environmental approval and other regulatory frameworks need to be modernised to meet these changing opportunities. To achieve the target of 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, the Palaszczuk Government could look to reviewing all relevant state government legislation that touch major projects, large-scale energy projects and contentious projects.

The Palaszczuk Government has committed to councils, community and the development industry to ensure the new state planning and assessment laws are sensible, well-structured, easy to follow, can respond to the challenges of urban growth and are fair, open, transparent and easy to understand. The objective of the planning reform should be to deliver policies and processes that:

  • streamline the approvals process and provide a high level of certainty also for large-scale renewable energy projects
  • facilitate the new business-to-business environment
  • provide genuine opportunity for community input into the decision-making on major projects