The Australian renewable energy industry has reacted with confusion and concern to the decision of newly reelected NSW premier Mike Baird to eliminate the portfolio of parliamentary secretary for renewable energy.
The move – part of a ministerial reshuffle following Baird’s poll win on the weekend – was not announced and had people within and without government scratching their heads.
The previous occupant of the role, Leslie Williams, is now minister for early childhood education.
Rob Stokes – a strong advocate for renewable energy and community energy – has been promoted to minister for planning, which makes him the head of a “cluster” that includes the environment and local government ministries.
This appointment will be welcomed by the wind industry in particular, and probably solar as well, as it raises hopes that some of the restrictive planning laws could be eased.
But it also hands Stokes a poisoned chalice of dealing with numerous controversial new coal mines and coal mine expansions.
In another move, the portfolio of energy minister Anthony Roberts, a leader of the party’s right faction, was expanded to include industry and resources.
There is concern about what this means for gas development in the state, since industry will be an advocate. It is the opposite of what is happening in Queensland, where the energy and climate portfolios were combined.
There is speculation that the removal of the parliamentary secretary role may simply reflect the fact that not much is happening in NSW, particularly given the policy uncertainty at a national level as the federal Coalition seeks to wind back the renewable energy target by nearly half.
NSW has gained just a minor share of the large-scale wind farms built to date, although it has released a renewable energy master plan to try to get a greater share of investment should the federal policy ever give clarity to investors.
“It is troubling,” said one insider. Questions to the Premier’s office went unanswered.
Stokes’ direct supervision of the environment ministry is taken by Mark Speakman, the member for Cronulla, who not only accepts the science of climate change, but says Australia should lead in doing something about it. In his first speech to parliament in 2011, he said all available evidence pointed to man-made climate change. “We must loudly and unequivocally formulate environmental policy on the basis that most evidence points to human activity being the principal cause of potentially very significant climate change,” he said.
“That evidence could eventually turn out to be wrong. But I’d rather be safe than sorry. That of course does not mean that Australia or New South Wales should adopt policies that will simply drive polluting industries offshore and cripple our international competitiveness, with no discernible impact on global emissions.
“But every bit we can do in New South Wales to reduce Australia’s emissions will help Australia’s diplomatic efforts on the world stage to reach a comprehensive world approach to the problem.”
© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd