Legislative Council

GREENS MOTION: Repower Port Augusta Passes Upper House

May 31st, 2017

On the 31st of May, Mark spoke to the motion put forward by his Greens colleague Tammy Franks MLC, which subsequently passed the Upper House.

1. Acknowledges the work of the Port Augusta community in advocating for solar thermal with storage as a 24-hour renewable solution for SA's power and for local jobs post the closure of Alinta Energy coal power station; 

2. Applauds the work of the local community and unions in calling for an economically viable and environmentally sustainable transition for Port Augusta and other coal-dependent communities; 

3. Calls on the state government to use every avenue available to use its purchasing power to facilitate solar thermal with storage capacity in Port Augusta; and 

4. Urges the Turnbull government to deliver on its promise to make solar thermal in Port Augusta the 'number one priority' for its clean energy funds as announced before the 2016 federal election.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise to add my voice to that of my colleague, the Hon. Tammy Franks, in supporting this motion. I congratulate her for putting it on the parliamentary agenda because there are few issues in South Australia that have attracted so much support from such a divergent range of people. As we all know, Port Augusta is a town at the crossroads. The coal-fired power stations have closed and there is a wonderful opportunity to replace them with Australia's first solar thermal plants that will deliver clean electricity day and night, through the addition of storage.

The campaign has been going for many years and, in fact, I cannot remember how far back it was that the people from Beyond Zero Emissions came to see me. I am sure that they saw other members of parliament as well. They brought their little model with them showing the mirrors and the towers and how it worked. It was a good campaign that really got people thinking about what the future energy supply would look like in South Australia.

The Repower Port Augusta Alliance was formed. That alliance has carried on the work of Beyond Zero Emissions, and they have been joined by many other partners in that endeavour. The local community, the local council and local businesses are all keen to see a solar thermal plant with storage at Port Augusta. I might just put on the record some of the members of the Repower Port Augusta Alliance because that will show how wide the support is and the divergence of interests that are represented on this alliance.

I mentioned Beyond Zero Emissions. I think they were the first. We have the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Port Augusta city council, Business Port Augusta, SA Unions, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the National Union of Workers, the Australian Education Union, the Tertiary Education Union, CLEANSA, 100% Renewables, the Conservation Council SA, the SA Student Environment Network, Doctors for the Environment, the Climate and Health Alliance and the Public Health Association of South Australia.

I know that the list is actually bigger than that and other groups have come on board, whether it is as part of the alliance or independently. Certainly groups like Solar Citizens have been very supportive of a wide range of solar initiatives including this one. In fact, it is very hard to find people who think it is a bad idea. I have not met anyone who has any ideological or other opposition to solar energy in general or solar thermal in particular. We know that the transition away from dirty fossil fuels is inevitable but one of the great sadnesses, I think, of this campaign is that it has not been managed that well.

We do need to transition workers into cleaner new industries, such as solar thermal, and we need to manage the transition carefully. Port Augusta is a classic example. Some people said that we should never have let the coal-fired power stations close without a transition plan. That is the wrong way of looking at it: what people should be thinking of is the fact that this proposal has been around for so many years that, if the federal and state governments had grasped the nettle earlier, the transition would have been smoother. Those workers who are no longer producing electricity for us using coal could have stepped straight into an alternative clean energy generation job.

Everyone knew that Port Augusta was closing. In fact, even before it closed it was being mothballed for, originally, parts of the year, then most of the year, and its ultimate closure was inevitable. We knew that the coal was running out, and we knew that the old Playford power station in particular was the dirtiest power station in Australia per unit of energy generated. What we have needed to get the solar thermal plant up and running was a suitable funding model. Many were put forward, but many of them involved the government using its buying power to buy clean energy and to lead by example.

The final thing I wanted to do was put on the record an acknowledgment of one person who has been involved with this campaign and driven it for many years, and that is Mr Dan Spencer, who built—

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting: 

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: No, no, a different Dan. I acknowledge that Dan van Holst Pellekaan has shown a great interest in this as well, but without wanting to bring comparisons into this, the other Dan (Dan Spencer) has been involved with this for many years and was the co-ordinator of the campaign in Port August that that saw a fantastic local vote. I have forgotten the exact number, but something like 98 per cent of people thought that solar thermal for Port Augusta was a good idea. If it is not 98 per cent, it is close to it, but a vast majority of people.

Dan Spencer's contribution to climate activism has been acknowledged and awarded. In 2012 he received the Bob Brown Foundation Inaugural Youth Environmentalist of the Year Award. He was recognised by the Conservation Council of South Australia with the Jill Hudson Award for Environment Protection. In 2013 he received the Flinders Ports Environment Award at the Channel 9 Young Achievers Award in South Australia, so I would particularly acknowledge Dan Spencer's contribution.

But, the campaign is not won yet. There is still a lot more to do, and I am delighted that the Legislative Council at least looks like it is going to be supporting the Hon. Tammy Franks' motion, and that sends a clear message to both the federal and the state government that this is a project that South Australians want, a project we deserve, a project that will be good for our climate, good for our economy and in particular good for Port Augusta.

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