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Interview: Townsville Solar City Launch
13 September 2008
JOURNALIST: Peter, take us through what you're doing here today.
GARRETT: It's a real pleasure to be here on Magnetic Island to participate in the launch of this fantastic centre and starting to see the Solar City of Townsville and the Solar Suburb of Magnetic Island program get up and running. And for Australian's it is really clear the we are going to significantly embrace have solar technologies, having energy efficiency technologies in our homes. It is a way of using the cheap power of the sun, it is also a way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and in the longer term if we get really efficient in the way in which we live we'll save money as well.
The consortium that have been working on this project have done a fantastic job and I have been absolutely thrilled to see already, the enthusiastic uptake by Magnetic Island residents who want to be part of this program. This program will do a couple of things which are really important. Firstly, we'll see solar panels on rooves - on rooves of public building, on houses - this will be generating electricity for Ergon so that there will be clean energy going into the grid here.
The second thing it will do for the Government is it will provide us with much more accurate information and data as we design energy policy into the long run.
So, this is a great day for Magnetic Island, it is a great day for Townsville and for Queensland and one of the fantastic things about today is that by going down the route of being a Solar Suburb we can defer for example, having an undersea cable coming across from Townsville here to Magnetic Island through really important Great Barrier Reef Marine Park waters. I think that is a win for the environment as well.
So, I am really pleased to be here and I am very much looking forward to having a look at the centre and actually launching these programs.
JOURNALIST: It's very early days yet but would you like to see developers of new communities look at solar energy as a plug in to start with rather than as a retrofit?
GARRETT: I think there is tremendous opportunities for developers on Greenfield sites to look at the long term cost and energy efficiency benefits of things like solar - particularly solar hot water but also PV systems such as we're seeing here at Magnetic. And as well, bring onto the market housing which in the longer term won't produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, the use of smart metres so that people know what kind of power they're using and provides opportunities for householders, in the choices they make in their homes, to actually use less energy and that means contributing in the most part, less greenhouse gas pollution as well.
We're seeing some of those Greenfield development sites take place in other states. I know there is work underway here in Queensland in different places, but obviously you'd love to see it happen more quickly.
JOURNALIST: And probably a place like Townsville and north Queensland where there is an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, it makes sense?
GARRETT: Yes, look I think one of the key messages of me being here today is to say that far north Queensland is incredibly well placed to play a leading role in deploying solar technology in homes, in businesses and through its suburbs because it has got such a great sunshine resource. That is certainly the case here in this particular part of the world - Townsville and Magnetic. The other thing is that for many years, Australia led the world in solar research. We had the brains that provided the necessary intellectual grunt for solar but the former government weren't keen about renewable energy at all. They really sidelined renewables. The Rudd Labor Government believes there is a role for renewable energy for us in addressing climate change, in making sure we provide the opportunity for people to actually get a hold of energy and not produce a lot of pollution as they do that. And with 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, this provides an additional opportunity for us to really advance renewable technologies right through this part of Australia where of course - a bit of wind around and quite a bit of sun - perfect place to do it.
JOURNALIST: So do you offer developers incentives then, to go down that track of having solar enclaves?
GARRETT: The Government has got a comprehensive set of programs out there which will enable a rapid uptake of renewable energy. Consider that we brought down a $1 billion set of programs just for households, for the delivery of solar panels for example to schools, in the budget in particular within my portfolio. Martin Ferguson, the Energy Minister - a $500 million renewable energy fund. There is significant investment by the Rudd Labor Government in renewables and in providing people in their homes and in their schools with the opportunity to take practical action - to bring solar technologies into play - in their own lives.
JOURNALIST: Maggie Island is one of eight location in Australia trialling the Solar Cities project at the moment. Could we see the project expand and go further throughout the country?
GARRETT: This Government has already expanded the Solar Cities program and what we want to do now is bed the program down. We're in diverse places such Alice Springs, Blacktown in the western suburbs of Sydney, in Perth, Coburg and Moreland City in Melbourne which is connecting to low income households, and here in Townsville and over on Maggie as well. So we want to bed down those programs. I think in the longer term what will see is once there is a market price in the system for renewable energy which will happen over time with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, renewable technologies that can compete to provide the capacity for access to energy at low cost and at low greenhouse gas emissions rates, will become more successful in the market places as well.
JOURNALIST: I was going to ask, if renewable energy is at the moment, affordable for the average Australian?
GARRETT: Well I think certainly something like solar hot water systems are an area where we can all kind of say, hang on a minute, if I want to replace my hot water system when it breaks down - and hopefully that's not at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night and I need it at 6am on a Sunday morning - let's think about putting a solar system in. Why is that? Well, it won't produce nearly as much greenhouse gas emissions over the long term as other systems will. It is good for the environment. We've got a good local solar hot water industry. We've got the tradesmen, we've the businesses, we've got the retailers - let's support them as well. So that is one area I think of renewables that I think is important for Australia. The other one is developing areas such as wind, geothermal and biothermal over time. We've got significant geothermal prospects for large amounts of renewable energy to be generated which can be fed into the grid, particularly in the Cooper Basin and there are resources here in Queensland as well. My expectation would be that with appropriate levels of support from the Government, through the renewable energy target and additionally by providing assistance for companies as they bring some of these technologies to commercial practice, we'll see that as a source of renewable energy in the future.
JOURNALIST: A bit of a sidestep, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park legislation - the amendment bill - the Senate comes back on Monday, are you hopeful that you won't have to see it back in the lower house?
GARRETT: Look, I think this Bill is comprehensive, reasonable, takes into account all of the comment and the history that existed in terms of the interaction between fishers and others on the reef in the past. It is a Bill that a lot of work and time and effort when into and I am really hopeful that we won't have an amendment that comes in which prevents this Bill coming into play. I think it's for the best possible result for the Great Barrier Reef, for the Authority, and also the people of far north Queensland.
JOURNALIST: You've got some Senators saying that we should strip away the convictions of people who were found guilty of fishing in green zones, you've got others saying let define what fishing actually is. They are obviously going to try and push it through the Senate with those particular amendments?
GARRETT: Well look I took note of the views of Senators when this matter was addressed last week in Canberra. What I would say is that previous Minister's made clear, and the legal advice to us is also clear, that stripping away convictions is not an appropriate course of action and we don't contemplate it. In relation to definitional matters within the Act, I am absolutely certain that the necessary work has been done to provide the clarity and the certainty that all users of the resource will need in the future. I think this is a very solid and good piece of legislation and I am really hoping that the Senate will see it that way too.
JOURNALIST: OK, so criminal convictions will remain for those who have been found guilty?
GARRETT: As has been the case in the past, the case will remain.
JOURNALIST: OK, and I also wanted to ask about Cape Pallarenda. I don't know if you have had a chance to get down there and have a look at the land? There is still obviously a lot of debate going on in Townsville, is there any chance the Federal Government will consider helping to purchase the land back for the community?
GARRETT: My understanding is that this land is now privately owned. There is no application in front of the Government to try and access or purchase this property as a consequence of its high environmental values. Any commitment from this Government for any area, whether it is an area like that or any other, must meet certain strict criteria. It has to be identified as a matter where the national environmental priorities that we have applied to Caring for our Country would actually pertain to that specific issue. In this case I don't believe that the Cape property that you're referring to does qualify, but in the absence of there being any formal applications that have come forward, which anyone is entitled to bring forward, then that is where the matter stands.