Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

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I rise to speak on the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, and firstly I would like to thank the Minister for Energy and Resources and her team for bringing this bill to the house. It is excellent to see so many bills coming through in the energy space, and it demonstrates how the Andrews Labor government is doing what matters when it comes to energy policy. I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful contribution by the member for Lara, who preceded me. The purpose of this bill is to improve and strengthen the framework around gas and electricity in Victoria. This bill seeks to amend the National Gas (Victoria) Act 2008 and the National Electricity (Victoria) Act 2005. This bill can essentially be broken down into three parts.

The first is to add decision-making criteria to Victoria’s legislation in the event that the minister for energy triggers the retailer reliability obligation, known as the RRO. To fully understand the necessity of the RRO it is important to recognise the context in which this operates. Victoria’s energy and electricity system is undergoing a rapid change. As the state, the nation and the world transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, increasingly unreliable coal-fired generators are being replaced with cleaner and cheaper renewables. Smaller yet necessary measures ensure that the right regulations are in place to improve reliability. One such measure is the RRO. In its annual electricity statement of opportunities the Australian Energy Market Operator publishes a long-term outlook. This forecasts electricity reliability in the national energy market. However, if a reliability gap remains three years and three months out, the RRO can be triggered. This safety mechanism will act as an additional insurance policy to ensure that the amount of contracted power generation equals the forecast demand well ahead of time. This bill adds additional safeguards to existing Victorian legislation to provide assurances that any triggering of the RRO is justified. And for further transparency, once the RRO has been triggered, a statement of reasons will be published.

The government understands that in order to facilitate an effective and efficient transition we must introduce measures to ensure sustainability of our energy supply. We are continuing to progress our efforts, which will ensure that as coal-fired generators close we have sufficient renewable energy generation and storage capacity. Strong renewable energy targets and programs such as the Victorian renewable energy target auctions, named VRET 1 and VRET 2, are critical to this process. They provide long-term contracts that create investment certainty to build new renewable energy generation projects. After the success of VRET 1 it was great to be with the minister to announce the successful projects for VRET 2 last October in my district of Glen Waverley. Six projects have been successful. VRET 2 will bring forward 623 megawatts of new renewable generation, as well as delivering 365 megawatts and 600 megawatt hours of new battery energy storage. This will be delivered by the six successful projects. It was great to be down at Wilson Transformers in my district where we made that announcement. The successful projects are the Derby solar project, Frasers solar farm, Fulham solar farm and DC coupled battery, Glenrowan solar farm, Horsham solar farm and Kiamal solar farm.

Our government is committed to reaching 100 per cent renewable energy consumption for government operations by 2025, which these six projects will help deliver. VRET 2 is a vital step in Victoria meeting legislated renewable energy targets of 40 per cent by 2025 and 50 per cent by 2030. It will continue to place downward pressure on electricity prices, which will be a relief for all Victorians. Furthermore, our $1.3 billion Solar Homes program has already helped more than 200,000 Victorians receive a solar rebate. By switching to solar Victorians can save over $1000 every year on their energy bills. By incentivising Victorians to make the switch to solar we are facilitating a smoother transition to clean and renewable energy.

As of March this year at least 3375 households in my electorate have applied for the Solar Homes program. A majority of these applications have been for solar panels, but there have also been a significant number of applications for battery and solar hot water rebates. It is great to see so many people in my community that are taking up the opportunity to make the switch to renewable energy. I am proud to be part of a government that is providing decent rebates for Victorians to make the switch to cheaper and more environmentally friendly sources of energy. While I and my team of volunteers were out doorknocking throughout the electorate, we spoke to many households who have already applied for these rebates through the Solar Homes program. Many spoke of the financial difference switching to solar has already made to their finances, and many are also proud to be using renewable energy.

On the subject of solar power I must make mention of my recent visit to a great local public school in my electorate, Brentwood Secondary College. After a heartwarming visit to Glenallen special school I joined the deputy mayor of Monash council Nicky Luo to take part in a tree-planting event at Brentwood. Brentwood Secondary is leading the way on environmental action, having received a 2021 Premier’s Sustainability Award, a 2022 Sir John Monash Award and the 2022 ResourceSmart Schools Award as the only 5-star ResourceSmart school in the state. I congratulate the Green Team led by Venkata Kalva, and I was pleased to play my part in protecting the local environment.

Further on initiatives regarding solar, the Andrews Labor government has introduced the $540 million – yes, $540 million – Renewable Energy Zone Fund, which will make it easier for new projects to be connected to Victoria’s grid. How could we forget that the Andrews Labor government is bringing back the SEC? The SEC will support Victoria’s renewable energy transition. We are investing an initial $1 billion towards delivering 4.5 gigawatts of renewable energy. This government understands the importance of publicly owned renewable energy. Not only will it drive down energy prices, but it will also improve reliability for all Victorians.

The second part of this bill goes to aligning penalties applied to Victorian gas market participants with those in other jurisdictions. The bill will enable maximum civil penalties payable by gas companies to increase. This will allow the Australian Energy Regulator to consistently apply penalties across the east coast gas market. This amendment reflects the government’s consistent and tough approach to energy companies that do the wrong thing by Victorians.

It is a shame and a disgrace that under the previous Liberal government big energy companies were given free rein to exploit loopholes. In a short span of just four years for Victorians, gas and electricity disconnections more than doubled and power prices increased by nearly 35 per cent. We cannot accept a situation in which the most vulnerable Victorians are left without access to electricity and heating. That is why these measures are an appropriate incentive for power companies to act appropriately. It is under our watch that the number of disconnections has halved, and we have supported all but more specifically the most vulnerable Victorians with not one or two but four rounds of the power saving bonus.

As of 25 July at least 11,967 households in my electorate of Glen Waverley have applied for the latest round of the power saving bonus. That is almost $3 million worth of cost-of-living support to people in my electorate, which I am sure is something that my constituents appreciate. We have helped hundreds of constituents in the community to apply for the bonus, especially those who struggle with submitting an application online themselves. As an office we have run several power saving bonus application sessions across the electorate, including at Highvale Retirement Village, Aveo Oak Tree Hill and the Australian Unity Victoria Grange retirement community. We also ran two sessions at South East Volunteers in Glen Waverley, including one session with the Premier. The current round is open until 31 August, so to all my constituents: make sure you get your application in if you have not done so already. If anyone in the Glen Waverley district needs assistance in applying, please contact my office. We are always there to help.

This bill will encourage improved cooperation between the state and federal governments when it comes to energy matters, which is a win for everyone. For the last 10 years or so Victorians have faced delays and stagnation on energy policy from the previous coalition government, including the lack of belief and motivation to be serious when it came to adopting renewable energy. As I mentioned before, the Andrews Labor government is doing so much work in the energy and renewables space. This includes our recent budget commitment to introducing 100 neighbourhood batteries across the state, including one in the City of Monash. These batteries will play an integral role in providing power for our local communities. Essentially these batteries will collect energy and store it throughout the day and then feed it back into the grid at night. As a result, an estimated 25,000 homes will be provided with cleaner and cheaper energy from these batteries.

Once again, it is great to see so many energy-related bills being discussed in the chamber, including this bill. I would like to thank the minister once again, alongside her excellent team, for their tireless efforts in improving the energy sector for all Victorians. I am proud to be part of an Andrews Labor government that takes energy policy, including renewable energy, seriously so all Victorians, including those in my electorate, can have widespread access to cheaper and cleaner energy. Because this is the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill, I would just like to digress. I am looking forward to seeing the energy that the Matildas will bring tonight. Kerr, Raso, Fowler and Mackenzie Arnold – I am sure they are going to shock the English into submission, and I commend this bill to the house.

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