Energy Legislation Amendment (Energy Safety) Bill 2023

03 August 2023

It is a great pleasure to rise and speak on and debate the Energy Legislation Amendment (Energy Safety) Bill 2023. Before going into the nitty-gritty of it all, I would just like to outline the overall objectives of this bill. The bill will address current issues associated with the energy safety legislation framework and improve community safety through more efficient and targeted regulation of new and emerging technologies and safety risks, including those posed by emerging technologies. These reforms will also bolster the safety compliance framework by increasing the obligations for electricity and gas companies, including owners and operators.

Here in Victoria there is no doubt that we are going through a massive energy transition, and it is really about building upon the strong targets that Victoria have set themselves. It is very much supported by our communities and my community in Bellarine, who are very much focused on making sure we have a clean, green environment in the Bellarine but also have a safe transition to those renewables.

This bill is obviously to modernise our legislative framework and to make sure that we improve community and worker safety issues. The bill will ensure that new technologies like batteries, wind farms, solar farms are held to the same standards as existing generation networks and technologies. We know that safety is really important when we have these changes in technology. It is paramount, especially for our workers in this field and for our communities. As we transition, we must make sure we keep pace with that regulation and enhance that enforcement.

As I have indicated, we really are leading the nation in this space. We are having that fast transition to a cleaner and greener energy system. We have more than tripled the amount of renewables in power generation in the last eight years alone. We know that renewables are backed by our communities. Millions have put solar on their roofs. They are installing heat pumps, they are installing batteries and they know that it is not only good for the environment but it is good for their energy security. They also know it is cheaper, and it is a long-term investment to have cheaper energy for their own households.

Just outside Geelong we installed the Victorian Big Battery, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is absolutely incredible for our region to host that big battery because not only is it reducing electricity prices but it is also just allowing us to store our energy, which is from wind and solar and that is actually the cheapest form of energy that we can now produce. Victoria will store enough energy in that big battery to power over 1 million homes in an incident for about half an hour. We have seen an incident at that Big Battery and it highlighted the limitations that Energy Safe Victoria had. We must be able to regulate those solar farms and big battery installations and this bill talks to that and it shows the urgency of making these amendments. It is also very critical to safeguard our consumers by making sure we have that safe delivery as those new technologies are developed. But we need to continue, and we will build upon those ambitious targets that we have set but they have to be in line with community expectations. We need to, as this bill will do, increase penalties so operators fulfil those safety obligations.

Now, as I have indicated, we do have that clear path. We have set ambitious targets and this state is leading. We have officially set a 2035 emissions reduction target of a 75 to 80 per cent reduction by 2035 and net zero by 2045. We smashed our other targets. Our 2020 emissions targets were absolutely smashed, and I am confident that we will do the same here. We do not waste any time. The minister is ambitious in her own objectives in what she needs to achieve for the state and I am confident that we will meet and smash those targets because we do not waste time. We are getting on with it.

We also have ambitious renewable targets of 95 per cent renewable by 2035, and what comes along with the transition is jobs. Thousands and thousands of jobs will now be part of this transition. We have ambitious targets for offshore wind. We know that this will also create further jobs, and just in the time since we have been elected over 5000 jobs have come in that large-scale renewable energy system.

Of course many members on this side of the house have talked about the excitement of bringing back the SEC, putting energy back in the hands of Victorians but also making sure that customers and Victorians come first, not companies who are there to make large profits for themselves. We need to have fit-for-purpose rules and energy regulations to do this, and this was initiated a few years ago when there was an independent review of Victoria’s energy and gas framework, which was known as the Grimes review. I thought that I would have a quick look at that review, and at the time of the final report and the government’s response Paul Fearon, who was the director of energy and safety at the time, said that this provided:

… a further springboard for –

Energy Safe Victoria –

to build its capacity and capability to hold energy network businesses accountable for designing, operating and maintaining their infrastructure safely.

The in-principle support for changes to legislation by the Government will also ensure Victoria’s regulatory frameworks are fit for purpose to meet emerging energy safety challenges into the future.

We have got on with that since that report. Of the 42 recommendations, we have implemented over half; three will be done through this bill, and we are on track to complete the rest. This really is going to allow Energy Safe Victoria to have that greater oversight and control of any changes to the safety management plans and the ability to conduct those full revisions of these plans every five years. This is really important, and community expectation is there. As the changes are rapidly occurring, we need to make sure that the right regulations are in place for Energy Safe Victoria to oversee the compliance of these new systems and technology. This bill is also going to provide Energy Safe Victoria with that enhanced enforcement toolkit to make sure that they can effectively regulate.

There is no doubt that Victoria is in a real energy transition here, which we are leading. I think this is probably one of the most fundamental technology transformations that we have seen across this state and that maybe I will see in my lifetime. Leading with renewables, emissions reductions and a commitment to bringing back the SEC, this is nothing short of an incredible reform driven by the Andrews Labor government and a minister with attention to our needs not only now but into the future, setting up our future generations. This legislation is nothing but common sense for Victoria’s energy safety legislation, having the safety obligations of the renewable energy companies aligned with the traditional energy companies we have seen in this state. It is going to strengthen our investigation and enforcement powers, but importantly this is here to protect and safeguard our communities, our workforce and our energy future. I thank the minister for all the work that has gone into this bill. It is incredibly supportive, as I have talked about for my community, of making sure we see that cleaner, greener transition to renewables for our energy safety and our energy future.