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NSW rejects claim it lags on renewables, citing 18 projects approved in 2023

Minns government says wind, solar and battery projects will generate enough clean energy to power more than 1.5m homes

The New South Wales government has rejected industry criticism its approvals of renewable energy projects lag other states, saying planning had finalised support for 18 significant wind, solar and battery projects in 2023.

The defence came as federal, state and territory energy ministers gather in Canberra for the first meeting of 2024 on Friday. Speeding up the rollout of renewable energy along with an updated national hydrogen strategy are understood to be on the agenda.

In data released to Guardian Australia, the Minns government said the 18 projects given support last year would generate enough clean energy to power more than 1.5m homes with a combined capacity of 7.6 gigawatts of generation and storage.

More than 3,000 jobs would also result during construction and operation of those projects, with 8.3m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions avoided each year. These include Virya Energy’s proposed 1.5GW Yanco Delta windfarm with 208 turbines in the Riverina region, which would be Australia’s largest.

“These approvals represent the NSW government’s commitment to accelerate the transition to renewables so households and businesses have reliable access to clean and affordable electricity,” said the energy minister, Penny Sharpe.

“NSW is now about halfway towards our 2030 renewable generation target, and over a quarter of the way there on our long-duration storage target.”

The pace of renewable energy’s introduction will feature prominently at Friday’s energy ministers gathering. A capacity investment scheme, proposed by the Albanese government last November, will be among the agenda items, Guardian Australia understands.

Setting national standards for so-called distributed energy resources and customer energy resources to support the growing spread of rooftop solar panels and home batteries will also be discussed. Also on the agenda will be details of an updated national hydrogen strategy.

Lily D’Ambrosio, Victoria’s energy minister, will also brief counterparts about this month’s severe storms that knocked out a key transmission line and blew over power poles, cutting off power to about half a million homes. The event underscored the need for greater resilience of electricity networks, an issue Victoria had pressed in meetings last year.

The reliability of the power grid may again be tested later on Thursday. An actual so-called level one lack of reserve event was reported in NSW by the market operator as temperatures in parts of Sydney reached 40C in a late-summer heatwave, pushing up electricity demand.

Renewable investors had singled out NSW as the state with some of the highest hurdles to clear to get projects to completion. Late last year, the state’s planning department surprised some in the industry with a map that appeared to discourage windfarms, even from parts of its designated renewable energy zones. The map was later revised.

The Clean Energy Investment Group also recently released a report calling for “greater approval and timing certainty for clean energy projects”.

It said windfarms in NSW were taking an average 3,488 days for approval – or almost 10 years – with solar farms taking 705 days. Battery projects needed 540 days, while hydro and transmission projects were taking 492 days on average.

Simon Corbell, the group’s chief executive, said on Thursday he “strongly” welcomed the finalising of planning assessments, particularly for the Yanco Delta windfarm.

“However, the total number of wind projects approved remains low, compared to solar and battery storage,” Corbell said. “Onshore wind energy is the lowest cost form of new utility scale generation available today and will play a central role as thermal coal continues to exit the system.”

Corbell’s group wants to see the NSW government further expedite planning assessment in the draft energy assessment guidelines currently under consideration. Of particular concern are changes to the proposed visual amenity assessment criteria for wind projects, he said.

Nicholas Aberle, a Clean Energy Council director, said NSW had had “a patchy few years in terms of project approvals, especially wind farms and has historically been much slower than other states”.

“The approvals in the last few months have been a welcome change, but this pace needs to be maintained,” Aberle said.

“The NSW government’s current review of planning guidelines for wind farms needs to deliver a framework that is fit for the purpose of ensuring renewable energy projects are built at the pace needed to replace ageing coal power stations and to reduce climate emissions.”

Paul Scully, NSW’s planning minister, said renewable energy projects would “help deliver clean and affordable energy to NSW residents while injecting millions of dollars into regional economies and creating hundreds of new jobs”.

“We will continue to work closely with industry and impacted communities to strike the right balance between supporting renewable energy projects and responsible development,” Scully said.


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