In January, CSIRO put out an article in their ECOS magazine that had a remarkable bit of information. The chief science body in Australia had done the numbers and found that the cost of moving to 100% renewables was drastically lower than previously estimated – in fact, $500 billion less that what was estimated just over five years ago.
The cost has gone down because new solar, wind, batteries and transmission have been steadily decreasing in cost, we have been building renewables at scale and technology is maturing. New fossil fuel generation and supply, on the other hand, are not getting cheaper.
We’re now paying the lowest power prices in the world, as reported in the ABC – low-cost renewable energy is now pushing down wholesale electricity costs. Anyone watching the renewables sector knows that renewables have been cheaper than fossil fuels for years now. In fact, CSIRO’s chief energy economist Paul Graham said “to be clear, the cost would be greater if we decided to rebuild coal.”
The numbers that CSIRO crunched didn’t include the costs of climate change impacts from burning more fossil fuels, such as floods, drought, heatwaves, bushfires, health costs, pollution, damage to the environment, sea level rise, and plant and animal species extinctions.
Melbourne University has modelled the cost of these impacts if we don’t reduce emissions, finding “total cumulative losses of nearly $2.7 trillion from climate change.” Lost opportunity costs and climate change impacts would cost us more than switching to renewables. It’s twenty times more expensive to not reduce emissions and act on climate change when compared to the damages from climate change.
Australia has a massive advantage when it comes to sun and wind – we have phenomenal resources – and we need to take advantage of that. Taxpayers are already paying around $29 billion per year for fossil fuel subsidies. We need to move away from fossil fuels, coal and gas. The world is moving to clean energy – it’s get clean or get cleaned out.
Regions can benefit
The majority of Australians also want more ambitious climate action.
The billions of dollars of renewable investment will largely be spent in regional areas.
That means regional Australians have to be at the centre of our energy transformation. We have the most to lose from not taking action on climate change, and we have the most to gain from a booming renewables construction and manufacturing sector that provides quality jobs.
Renewables can also complement agriculture by providing extra income for farmers, especially where solar panels and wind turbines are built, to allow agricultural practice to continue underneath.
Then there are community benefit programs, whereby to become good neighbours, renewable developers negotiate with local communities about how they can make a contribution to the region.
In Australia, this has looked like opportunities to co-own or co-invest in renewable projects, payments to neighbours of wind turbines, free electricity and funding for local community groups.
As renewable companies jockey for a position in a renewable energy zone, they have an incentive to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and contribute to the local community. So, what are our priorities?
Now is the time for regional communities to get together and talk about what we want the energy transition to deliver for our regions. What benefits do we want to see?