Solar farm needs certainty about renewables: Pettitt

Brad Pettitt

BRAD PETTITT has blamed the WA and federal governments for holding up Fremantle’s first solar farm.

The Fremantle mayor, who’s now on the campaign trail to try and pick up an upper house seat for the WA Greens, says the governments’ dithering over renewable energy targets has impacted solar farm provider Epuron’s ability to secure purchasing contracts.

When asked if there was a timeline to get the facility up and running on the old South Fremantle tip site, Dr Pettitt said: “It’s a bit like ‘how long is a piece of string?’.

“I mean, it will go ahead, but Epuron is trying to get power purchase, but because there are no mandated targets, there is no imperative for Western Power to buy it.”

Geothermal

Dr Pettitt said the solar farm was just one of a range of issues where the council’s plans had bumped up against state government systems he considers outdated.

“The leisure centre has geothermal and solar power generation, but they won’t let us have them on at the same time because they don’t want to flood the network with renewable energy,” he told the Herald.

“That’s discouraging when we are still running coal powered generators.”

The former head of Murdoch uni’s sustainability unit said the council had been trying unsuccessfully for years, in conjunction with the WA Local Government Association, to get Western Power to allow them to swap over to energy efficient LED street lighting.

“Western Power have a range of reasons, including that they have a bunch of non-LED lamps in storage and don’t know what they can do with them – that’s what we’ve been told.”

Monopoly

Dr Pettitt said the plan had been for the council to swap over the lighting at its own cost and then receive the savings, but Western Power had expressed concern about the impact on its own business model.

When asked if he thought that represented a conflict of interest, Dr Pettitt agreed: “From a monopoly.”

He says the McGowan government’s new climate strategy could have addressed these systemic problems, but fell way short of the mark.

“The state government put out a climate strategy and the most environmental thing was that they recycled a whole lot of existing initiatives,” he said.

“No measurable targets, no ambition, no pathway.

“It’s a lost opportunity the comes out of just this lack of clear direction at state and federal level.”

Dr Pettitt said it was incredible that WA, which had some of the highest solar uptake in the country, was the only state not to have a mandated renewable energy target.

The government was still talking about getting a major battery similar to the Tesla model installed in South Australia in 2017 and increased in capacity by 50 per cent in September this year.

South Australian energy minister Dan Van Holst Pellekaan said even before the expansion, an independent review found the battery had saved SA households at least $150 million, while it had helped overcome much of the grid instability which has dogged WA’s market.

Earlier this week the McGowan government unveiled a new plan to slash daytime electricity prices to help flatten the surge of solar power that hits the grid.

Already criticised by the Opposition for disadvantaging the state’s “working poor” who can’t adjust their times of use, Dr Pettitt said his own experience with tariffs highlighted how messed up the system is.

His low tariff kicks in during the evening.

In relation to his election chances, Dr Pettitt says the McGowan government’s popular Covid response made his job grabbing a spot in the South Metro electorate more difficult and could see Labor grab control of the upper house in their own right.

Progressive

“The more likely scenario is that Labor will control the upper house with the Greens and it will be the first time two progressive parties have had that control.

“My job would be to make Labor better, and be the government people want them to be.”

The Greens released their own climate plan this week.

Included in its initiatives are:

• 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020;

• Net-zero emissions by 2035;

• A $2.5 billion sustainable industry investment fund;

• A $500 million renewables investment fund;

• $60 million annual investment in cycling and transport infrastructure; and,

• A complete end to logging in native forests.

by STEVE GRANT

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