Second Reading – Renewable Energy (Investment and Jobs) Amendment Bill 2019

Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (18:08): I stand to speak on the Renewable Energy (Investment and Jobs) Amendment Bill 2019, and I do so with the pride of understanding how important this legislation is, as we as a government are delivering on our promise to increase Victoria’s renewable energy target (VRET) to 50 per cent by 2030. In the last episode here from Mount Waverley I referenced the great Aussie film The Castle. Talking about electricity, it made me think about powerlines. Mr Kerrigan, if I can quote him, reckons ‘Powerlines are a reminder of man’s ability to generate electricity’. I could tell Mr Kerrigan, if he existed, that not only do we generate electricity but we are thinking about how we can generate that electricity better for our environment and to work against climate change. That is what we are here today to do. I think if he knew that, he would respond with something akin to ‘Ah, the serenity’, or something like that. It is important that we are a part of the movement towards a major global energy transition and seize on Australia’s natural assets with solar and wind power. We have already seen great return from the investments made in this area. Investing in renewable energy has had significant benefits not only for our economy but also for the environment and society as a whole. As we look forward to the future for the next generation of Victorians, we do so knowing that we are working for a better world for them. Victoria is a lucky state which boasts an abundance of renewable energy sources. The utilisation of those sources will result in growth in investment and employment across the state.

Mr McGhie: Jobs.

Mr FREGON: Put simply, jobs—and it makes sense. The last Victorian renewable energy target set by us as a government in 2017 was a progressive yet modest 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. We set the agenda through recognition of the issue and action via targets. This amendment bill follows on from our previous targets and chooses to be a little bolder than before. I think this is important because our youngest Victorians are looking up to us, and hoping for bold action. It is a part of our role in politics to spearhead change. I am very proud to stand alongside the Andrews government as we legislate a VRET target of 50 per cent by 2030. As Whitney Houston said in that song:

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

This is part of what we are doing, not only with our Education State, but we are bringing them forward and they will lead us to a much cleaner energy. We are going to get them halfway there by 2030 with this very bill. It is a big step forward for Victoria as we are providing the energy industry with continued policy certainty to be investing into important renewable energy projects, creating jobs and a more sustainable future for all—so jobs, jobs and more jobs. We know that for a lot of Victorians one of their biggest concerns is jobs—for their family, for their friends, for everyone. We are addressing this at multiple levels, including through our work in the renewable energy sector. Members on the other side were talking about their concerns about unemployment in regional areas, so I have got something here that we mentioned in May, around budget time. It says:

Victoria’s regional unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest mark on record and at just 4.2 per cent, remains the lowest of all the states.

That was in May. I am happy to report that at the moment it is even better than that. Currently it is 3.7 per cent, which is an all-state, all-time low. In May regional unemployment had fallen by 0.2 points in three months, so now we are looking at a 44 per cent drop in the regional unemployment rate from 2014—who was in then?—to now.

Mr McGhie interjected.

Mr FREGON: Pretty good government, this. That is an astounding figure. Jobs will be created in local industry, in supply chain development and in the production of materials. These jobs will be created where they are needed most, too, such as Vestas Renewable Energy Hub, breathing fresh air into Geelong with $3.5 million worth of investment. This is based out of the old Ford factory. The project will mean hundreds of locals in Geelong get hands-on training in wind turbine maintenance. It will also be groundbreaking, as Australia has not had its own wind turbine component assembly in over 10 years. So that is great for Geelong, and I reckon we have got a few members who will be very impressed about that.

Members interjecting.

Mr FREGON: The member for Lara is thinking this is a very good thing. How about our $25 million battery storage initiative commitment, which has involved the deployment of two largescale batteries in western Victoria with a combined capacity of 55 megawatts? That is great.

What else have we got? We have got the first battery system connected to a vital grid intersection at a substation in Warrenheip, near Ballarat.

Mr McGhie: There you go.

Mr FREGON: There you go; that is up your way. So it is all around the state and it is all-round good news. These batteries were strategically planned at the most constrained sections of our electricity network. They have proved themselves already, being operational and providing muchneeded backup power and grid stabilisation. The investment has just shown the forward-thinking nature of the Andrews Labor government.

Our new VRET target is expected to increase employment in Victoria by 4067 full-time jobs a year. Included in this is stability for the jobs already created through our previous target, such that employees in the Victorian business Keppel Prince thrive, with the company producing a record number of wind towers.

The feds have left great uncertainty in the renewable energy sector for investors and workers in these industries after reviewing the federal renewable energy target in 2014 and 2015. We all remember the on-again, off-again nature of the National Energy Guarantee conversation of late last year—and didn’t that fall apart. It was very disappointing, but there you go.

In picking up the slack for the feds the Victorian government introduced the VRET in 2016. We have created important initiatives and made the necessary investments to ensure that our targets are not empty promises. Security for the sector means security for the jobs of Victorians. Because of our investment in and legislation for the renewable energy sector since 2014 we have seen unprecedented growth and investment. It is clear that with strong leadership and a strong vision the government has given certainty to this sector. We have got the statistics to prove it. The share of Victoria’s electricity generated from renewable sources has increased from 11 per cent in 2014, when we came into government, to 20 per cent in 2018, and that will only increase with this bill.

One of the great initiatives this year has been our Solar Homes initiative. Its popularity speaks for itself, and I do not know if we have had a more popular initiative in our office in Mount Waverley. We have brought the people of Victoria with us in our vision to see more solar panels on the roofs of Victorian homes, more solar hot water systems and more battery storage units. This groundbreaking investment will bring the number of households with residential solar systems to 1 million in 10 years.

I am going to give a shout-out to one of my constituents, Ben. Ben is just one of the many very happy Solar Homes success stories. After looking at his power bills Ben was telling me that now that he is getting paid for his grid feed-in he is saving about $60 a month. But that is in winter; he is expecting that to get dramatically better. He is expecting $800 or $900 a year worth of savings, so it is going to pay for itself over the first number of years. Of course after it has paid for itself, then he will be getting his energy for nothing, pretty well. That is an amazing saving and is why this whole initiative is so popular.

Whenever you talk to the kids in the schools, not only in my electorate but in all of them, they ask about climate change, renewable energy and what we are doing. Recently I went to Avila College and sat with about eight of the young ladies there. That was the most popular topic they were asking me about: what are we doing in this area? What are we doing with renewables? What are we doing with recycling? This is on their minds, and they will be very glad to know that our increased renewable target of 50 per cent by 2030 will ensure the momentum we have created in the renewable energy sector does not halt.

I believe this is a time of opportunity for us all. The time to act is now and this government is doing it. I am proud to be standing on the right side of history and I commend this bill to the house.