Muja A and B Power Station debate

Hon PETER COLLIER: I move — That the statement be noted.

The decision to refurbish Muja A and B was made fundamentally as a result of the trip to the pipeline on Varanus Island. The Varanus Island explosion showed our vulnerabilities in securing access to gas and our baseload power supplies were under serious threat. Rather than spend more than $1 billion on a brand spanking new coal-fired power station, we made the decision to refurbish Muja A and B for the short to medium term, for 10 to 15 years, to ensure security of supply in baseload power. The refurbishment has been successful. It will be commissioned so that it is under strict environmental conditions. It will be commissioned in around June 2012 to ensure we have capacity by the summer of 2012. This once again shows that the Liberal–National government is looking after security of energy supplies for all Western Australians.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: I rise to speak on this statement by the minister. I really took umbrage at the statement the minister just made that we would propose to refurbish Muja A and B rather than build a brand spanking new coal-fired power station. In my view, the notion that we should refurbishment Muja A or B or, indeed, have a new brand spanking coal-fired power station —

Hon Peter Collier: Which would you prefer?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: I would prefer that we moved the way of the International Energy Agency.

Hon Peter Collier: No, if you had a choice, which would you prefer?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: The minister had other choices but he chose not to go down that path. We need to look at some statements that came out today. The International Energy Agency today published an article titled “Australia’s big solar turning point”. The International Energy Agency reported that in the next a couple of days it will produce a report about the need for the world to produce most of its power within the next 50 years solely from renewable energy. According to Bloomberg, this week the IEA will significantly lift its solar energy forecasts—from providing 21 per cent of the world’s electricity energy needs by 2050 to the new prediction that solar will need to provide half of the world’s energy needs by 2060, which is most of the world’s electricity needs. Much of the rest will come from wind, hydropower and biomass. A senior analyst from IEA told Bloomberg that photovoltaic and concentrated solar power can become the major sources of electricity.

Unfortunately, as we have already noticed, there was an article in The Australian Financial Review that shows that WA is already worried that it cannot meet its current green targets. It states —

Western Australia is set to miss providing its share of the national target to produce 20 per cent of power from renewable sources by 2020, after the Barnett government announced the state’s dominant electricity retailer would not contract for enough green energy projects by the end of this decade.

Given where the rest of the world is going, I find the attitude of this state government almost Neolithic in the sense that it wants to continue down the old path of mega coal­fired power stations. When this announcement was made about Muja A and B, many people did not believe it. They thought that this was something out of the realm of science fiction and that we were going back to the past, especially with these two power stations. For the same amount of money that has been invested in these two projects, we could have moved quite significantly into renewable energy. At the same time, I take my hat off to the minister by saying that with the new solar power station that is going ahead in the regions, indeed, parts of Verve Energy are taking quite a proactive role.

It is also interesting to note some of the corporations that got involved in coal investment. I refer to the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. It has been doing the rounds, talking about its green energy credentials, and was seen to be one of the potential investors, putting approximately $150 million through its investments into refurbishing the old dinosaurs of Muja A and B coal­fired power stations owned by Verve Energy. ANZ copped a fair amount of flak over that involvement. A comment was made that ANZ CEO Mike Smith needed to amend ANZ’s poor performance in backing polluting coal or hand back the Dow Jones sustainability index award. I find the idea that we should be maintaining our reliance on the coal directions of this state quite amazing given the nature of the resources this state has in geothermal, wind and wave. That it only requires the government to make futuristic investments into new energy rather than continue subsidising the old beggars belief. I cannot understand that this state, with the opportunities that it has, continues to go down the coal-fired power station route.

Hon Peter Collier: Which renewable baseload power sources would you have used to take the spot?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: The minister himself has put some money into some really good developments. That sort of funding and that sort of subsidy is needed to go to those industries —

Hon Peter Collier: We are not putting any money into Muja A and B; it is private. Read the ministerial statement.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: I understand what the minister is doing. There is a corporation coming in and taking on that role but it is still the government that is making that philosophical decision.

Hon Peter Collier: I understand your point, but you tell me which renewable source would you have used for baseload power until 2020 to 2025.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: It is up to the energies that are available. Solar–thermal would be the way I would go straightaway; the same plant that is operating in Spain.

Hon Peter Collier: Would it be ready by the summer of 2012–13?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Absolutely.

Hon Peter Collier: At what cost?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: It would be significant, but there again the minister himself, when we have identified the amount of money that is going into Muja A and B —

Hon Peter Collier: Not from the state government it is not.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: No, it is not from the state government. The project like the one in Spain was self-funded; it required some subsidies from the Spanish government as does every power station, whether it be coal or anything else. But it actually requires fortitude and forward thinking to think of the future, whereas to think of the past does not require any thought process, we just go on with what we have always done.

I thought it was important to put on the record that we needed to be going down that path. Again, why do we need to go down that path? It is not about economics, it is not about whether we have coal, gas, wind or whatever; it is about what we get from those energy sources or what we do not get. On 5 August an associate professor from the University of Melbourne conducted a think tank with a number of other leading scientists from the CSIRO and the University of Melbourne and they are now starting to talk not about a two-degree centigrade rise in temperature, but a scenario with a rise of four degrees. When we talk about four degrees, we need to understand what four degrees means. A 40-degree day becomes a 44-degree day. In fact, that is not quite right because when we talk about a four-degree centigrade rise in temperatures, we actually talk about four degrees over the base temperature of the planet, which is about 15.3 degrees. Therefore, a four-degree rise is almost a quarter of the temperature rise in terms of what we predict. I would have thought the Minister for Energy, and indeed the government, needed to have some responsibility for future generations. There was a quote, which I will try to find, made by one of the professors at that conference. I think it was Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University who reported that even a relatively modest future warming of around one degree would also have a significant negative effect on our ecosystem and our way of life. All these predictions are likely to be greatly exacerbated at a four-degree centigrade warming and beyond with climate change becoming an increasingly strong driver of local and eventual global extinctions. There was a statement that I will try to find that I think epitomised what one of the scientists was saying. An article on the conference states —

At one point during his keynote speech, Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and former climate adviser to the German Chancellor and the EU, asks rhetorically: What is the difference between two degrees (of temperature increase) and four degrees?

That is the projection that we are now looking at. He said that the difference is human civilisation. Moving to renewables and getting out of coal is the responsible action of a responsible government that is concerned about the future of humankind and, indeed, our environment and our global community. Therefore, I do not accept that one has to make these sorts of decisions based purely on year-by-year economic decisions. We have to make decisions about energy consumption and energy use on the basis of the needs of our children and future generations. That is my concern, minister. I think that the decision made about this was a simple out; the hard decision was not made. The hard decisions will need to be made. The hard decisions are about changing the way we think, changing the way we do business and establishing a regime that does not look to the next electoral cycle or to the next 10 years, but actually looks to where this planet is going to be in the next 50 to 100 years. Unless governments of all ilks take that level of responsibility, I feel that we are in serious trouble, as senior scientists around the world and as the International Energy Agency are now saying. If we look to Germany and England, they have targets that would make us blush.

We have been doing some research over the last little while and I can talk about that research for the first time tonight. Members will be aware that the federal government is required to establish what the carbon dioxide levels are of the nation and, indeed, by default Western Australia’s CO2 levels. In 1995, which is the base year for all targets, Western Australia’s emissions were about 54.5 million tonnes per annum. We went to the federal government and to every agency in the state and asked what their emissions are. The federal government came up with a figure of I think 73 million tonnes for Western Australia in carbon dioxide–equivalent emissions. We went to the agencies and got a negative response; nobody could tell us what they were doing. I even asked the minister about the energy production coming from the energy cycle. Over a period of months using a researcher we identified every known project that we could come up with and every known generator of power in Western Australia. We went about asking all the various corporations and companies. We went back to the Environmental Protection Authority, studied all its reports and we went back to parliamentary questions, newspaper reports, national and state government publications and websites. As a result of that research, we have come up with a very, very minimalistic position of where Western Australia’s emissions are to date. We make the point that it is very minimalistic because a large percentage of the corporations and government agencies we questioned could not answer the questions. However, after going through all the reports, we have been able to ascertain that the current emissions from Western Australia are approximately 82.3 million tonnes of CO2 and, as I say, that is the current figure without a lot of data. There are a couple of very interesting aspects in that report.

Hon Peter Collier: Where did you get those figures from?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: As I say, if the minister had been listening, we got it —

Hon Peter Collier: I have been listening, but the member has not been definitive in terms of where he got them from. If the figures are as the member says they are, why is the federal government ignoring us with regard to compensation for the carbon tax?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: I will explain. We got the figures from the Environmental Protection Authority and, as I say, from company reports. Indeed, we wrote to about 500 companies and we received their individual responses. Corporations that produce less than a quarter of a million tonnes of CO2 per annum do not have to report. None of those are included in these figures. The two figures that jumped out—which we knew nothing about, and which were quite staggering—were that prescribed burns in Western Australia account for 3.18 million tonnes per annum, but unmanaged bush wildfires actually amount to 14.47 million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

Hon Peter Collier: What has this got to do with Muja A and B? That is the ministerial statement.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Because Muja A and B are contributors to this process.

Hon Peter Collier: Prescribed bush-burning—Muja A and B?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: No, no; I am not saying they are. I am talking about the amount of CO2e we are producing in Western Australia. Everything that takes a part of that must be considered. I will move on.

Without a significant number of industries being able to be assessed, the current figures—they are all referenced—come out at 82.3 million tonnes per annum. It is also interesting that if we go to the corporate reports and also to projected emissions for this state, we can add another 79.1 million tonnes of CO2 onto that, on known projected increases in CO2e emissions. It will take WA’s emissions up to approximately 150 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, which is actually tripling the baseline we are supposed to be having an eight per cent exceedence over.

Obviously Muja A and B are only a part of that, but if we are to actually try to bring down our CO2e emissions to the levels prescribed by the nation, the levels that are being targeted as a 20 per cent reduction by the state, and to the levels required by the international community, we are failing dismally. I will leave it at that.

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