Electricity deal sparks concern

Energy experts say a multi-billion dollar deal to upgrade Western Australia’s electricity grids to prepare them for renewable energy, does not go far enough.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the $3 billion agreement with the West Australian Government to modernise the state’s energy grid to facilitate renewable energy.

The announcement was made at a breakfast event at Crown Perth where almost 2,000 people were gathered.

Mr Albanese says the deal will provide new technology, advancement, and thousands of jobs around the state.

“This will help economic development and infrastructure in Geraldton and Albany, Karratha and Port Headland; making the energy grid better, making more renewables and getting prices down for families, businesses and for industry,” he says.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the project will modernise the state’s electricity grids. Photo: Imogen Wilson.

The Albanese Government says it will provide up to $3 billion through concessional loans and equity investments to grow WA’s renewable energy through modernising electricity grids in the South West and the North West.

Ministers, academics, government officials and business owners, like Kerry Stokes, were among those at the event.

Mr Albanese says backing the development and growth of Western Australia has been one of his primary goals during his prime ministerial term.

Anthony Albanese announces the new Commonwealth-Western Australia Rewiring the Nation deal. Video: Imogen Wilson.

Renewable energy expert Liz Aitken welcomes the money but is sceptical about what impact it will have.

“Three billion dollars is a lot of money, and that’s great but I don’t believe that the three billion will even cover the cost of stage one of the electricity grid,” she says.

When it comes to renewable energy, Ms Aitken says the WA Government needs to be more transparent about its plans and believes costings of projects. She says the government needs to prioritise realistic costings and consider the exuberant costs other states have incurred because of their renewable energy schemes.

Liz Aitken says the deal doesn’t go far enough. Photo: Supplied.

“I am fighting between being both positive and critical,” she says.

“Renewable energy is amazing and this is what I am working towards, however, there are so many potential risks that can present themselves in relation to this project.”

Ms Aitken says the federal government announced $20 billion for the country’s renewable energy scheme, which WA is only receiving a small portion of.

“WA is the largest state with a lot of farming land through our Wheatbelt and South West regions. We need to know what this means for farmers, our economy and how the government plans to overcome this, when $3 billion isn’t enough,” she says.

Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation officer Sade Shoj says the grant and initiative is a step forward in the state government’s goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

“While there will be some challenges in some areas of heavy industry, the WA government holds the view that a renewable energy future presents exciting opportunities for new jobs, manufacturing and export industries,” she says.

Ms Shoj specialises in green hydrogen and believes Western Australia has many attributes that provide a strong and competitive advantage in the global renewable market.

“Western Australia finally has the opportunity to become a global renewable industry leader and help our international partners in meeting their future energy and emission reduction goals, as well as developing our own state,” she says.       

UWA Centre for Energy director Dongke Zhang says the grants could be beneficial but they don’t go far enough.

“Any conditions from the Labor federal government is going to be different to the WA economy, to the way we live and to the way we build our world,” he says.

“We are all hard-working people, we are very creative and we don’t want them to ruin that for us.”

Mr Zhang says what the government plans to do won’t benefit WA the way it is being claimed it will, and that politicians should leave it to the energy experts.

“I welcome $3 billion into the West Australian economy but just leave the money here; don’t interfere with how we do things here. They will create more problems rather than solving them,” he says.

Mr Zhang says he is concerned about what impact the deal could have on the environment.

“Think about how many different kinds of minerals we have to dig out of the ground, process it to get a couple of wires and all the materials to build these things. The environmental consequences will be humongous. That’s what they don’t tell the general public,” he says.

Hear more from Dongke Zhang.

The start date of the renewable energy project is yet to be announced.