Australia is a big country. A big country requires big thinking, big projects and big commitments. This can involve processes that are difficult to negotiate, cumbersome to work through and necessitate listening to a multitude of voices.
The story of the current national electricity grid is part of that narrative. The national electricity grid has been described as one of the largest machines in the world. Based on infrastructure that was built throughout the twentieth century, and with an energy market born out of the micro-economic policy reforms of the 1990s, the grid has seen state authorities cooperate to ensure that a reliable and secure source of energy is available to the residents of the national energy market states and territory—Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
However, in recent times it has become increasingly apparent that modernising this essential piece of infrastructure is necessary to future-proof the grid. The reliability of the grid at times of peak demand has become of particular concern. Consumers are also concerned about recent increases to their electricity and gas bills. The challenges posed by Australia’s climate change commitments have seen a change to the energy mix, with renewables now more prevalent.
The energy trilemma relates to three issues, being the need to meet Australia’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement, ensuring the supply of stable energy so that the ‘lights don’t go out’, and mitigating rising electricity costs. Australia is not alone in this work. Every major economy in the world is encountering the same trilemma and working out ways to meet this triple-challenge.
Clearly, modernising the electricity grid is a big project for a big country. And whilst there is a plethora of views on what is the best way forward, this Committee has earnt itself a special place in the discourse due to the consensus nature in which we have conducted our business. The Committee travelled to all of the national energy market states on the mainland, and wherever we went we were congratulated on the consensus-based approach we were taking to this very important task of reviewing the electricity grid.
Australia is famous for its nation builders—for those amongst us who courageously identify the time for new infrastructure to enable Australia to continue to grow and take advantage of our abundance of natural resources.
In the case of energy policy, increasingly these natural resources are sunshine and wind. The nation building required relates to the grid itself—ensuring that the transmission lines and interconnectors are up to the task of carrying Australia and its electricity needs into the coming decades of the 21st century. The lessons we learn have the potential to be exported around the globe.
This report canvasses these important issues and makes timely recommendations that seek to ensure that Australia is not left behind in the electricity revolution that is occurring all around us.
I thank my fellow members on the Committee for their collegiate diligence in considering the issues raised during the course of the inquiry. The Committee was fortunate in the assistance it received from submission makers and witnesses who provided a strong evidence base which informed our deliberations. I would also like to thank the staff of the secretariat for so ably assisting us in our work.