Australia is seriously off track, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissively claiming that we will meet our Paris commitments ‘in a canter’. People may wish to review the work of ClimateWorks Australia, which explains how off track we actually are in meeting our emissions reduction target. We need real policy action by the government that does not need to be at the expense of a strong economy. This may require the Liberal Party to put the environment ahead of their own vested interests. We also need to accept that Australia’s Paris target, based on current commitments, is too weak to properly address global temperature reduction requirements.
Australia needs to display global moral leadership and show how we can reduce emissions and yet still thrive in a strong economy. We need to leverage our international position to encourage immediate global action.
As one of the world’s highest emitters per capita, Australia needs to rapidly reduce its carbon emissions across the whole economy, especially in the electricity sector.
I have been an active commercial investor in the renewable energy sector for many years, including most recently when I was the CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Particularly over the past five years, I have been following the rapid decline in costs of wind and solar generation and the improvement in the economics and bankability of such projects. We are at a stage now when these renewable energy technologies no longer require any subsidies to be built. Their generating costs are less than new coal-fired power stations that can still pollute the atmosphere with impunity. As energy storage technologies also get cheaper, we will be able to dispatch low cost renewable energy at any time of the day and we will be able to phase out the aging coal-fired power plants.
Whilst coal will still be part of the energy mix in some parts of the world for some time to come, the reality is that coal is being progressively phased out in favour of new technologies in all advanced economies. Furthermore, Australia’s coal-fired power stations are aging beyond their economic lives and will need to be replaced. A responsible government cannot ignore this inflection point and needs to implement policies to help the economy respond and adapt to a low carbon future. We need a ‘pull through’ of new technologies to build enough energy capacity ahead of closing down the coal-fired power stations.
The transition of our electricity sector to renewable energy, supported by a range of energy storage systems, is vital. This must happen all around the world if we are to have any hope of limiting the warming of our planet to less than 2 degrees. The sustainability of a strong economy requires a healthy environment.
Here in Australia, this transition presents enormous economic opportunities. We have an abundance of diverse solar and wind resources and plenty of space across a large geographic footprint. With such natural assets, we can match demand with generation across different times of the day and optimise storage costs . We also have proximity to Asia, where we can export our renewable energy technologies and energy, including in the form of hydrogen and bio fuels. In addition, the next phase of growth beckons as the conversion of renewable energy to chemicals becomes economic.
Of course, we need to manage this transition very carefully so that people can reskill and take jobs in renewable energy and other new industry sectors that will emerge in a clean energy economy. We also need to protect and promote jobs in current industries that will otherwise be under threat from climate change, such as the tourist industry, our farmers and the people and businesses all the way down our Murray Darling river systems.
With vision and the right policy settings, I see a clean energy future here in Australia where we will have an abundance of very cheap renewable energy, supported by storage that can be reliably dispatched at any time of the day to drive all forms of existing and new industries. As a renewable energy superpower, we will have an enormous competitive advantage, a sustainable future and economic prosperity that will be the envy of the world.
The Liberal Party is claiming that my campaign for action on climate change is inconsistent with an earlier brief association with a fossil fuel company called Linc Energy.
I joined Linc Energy in late 2010 as Acting Chairman, on a board of five directors. It was at a time when the company had just sold its major coal assets and was changing strategic direction to focus on cleaner energy solutions. It was developing technologies to produce synthetic forms of gas, by gasifying coal underground that could be made into hydrogen, diesel and aviation fuel.
Within a very short space of time, the Queensland government started to encourage coal seam gas activities across the state. Such technologies were technically incomparable with Linc’s underground coal gasification (UCG) strategy. Before long, the company therefore began to revert to its traditional fossil fuel technologies. Such a business was of no interest to me. Hence, I resigned from my position and ceased engagement with the company within 10 months of my commencement.
Linc did indeed cause environmental damage to soils and water in its UCG test area. Operational mistakes were made by the company and by the Queensland government in its monitoring of the facility. Linc Energy, in liquidation, did not defend itself in court and was found guilty of willfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm in its testing of UCG technology between 2007 and 2013. The case is continuing.
Recently the Department of Environmental Science has undertaken extensive soil and air testing and did not find evidence of subsoil gases leading to unsafe levels of air pollutants in the community outside the test area. Testing of surface soil and groundwater has also not revealed any associated impacts on neighbouring properties.
I regret my brief involvement with this company. Clearly this process has been upsetting, especially for the people on neighbouring properties and the broader community
I have provided financial support to numerous renewable energy projects and businesses over many years. All sensible investors are increasingly seeking to gain experience in this growth sector.
My only current investment in any renewable energy business or project is a 15% shareholding in a start-up single project company called Rise Renewables (https://riserenewables.com.au), which is developing the Baroota Pumped Hydro and Solar Project. This project will be able to provide energy on demand and will be a critical asset in South Australia’s electricity network. I was a director of this company up until my resignation on 30 January 2019. If I am elected, I intend to dispose of my shareholding in Rise Renewables.
I have also previously been a director and personal investor in other renewable energy projects and businesses, but I have resigned from all boards and disposed of all such investments.
I was the inaugural CEO of the government-owned Clean Energy Finance Corporation which, during my tenure, made significant investments in clean energy projects across renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies. I resigned from the CEFC in 2017.
While I was a director of Rise Renewables and another renewable energy business, UPC Renewables, both companies were shortlisted in the Government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments (UNGI) program. As a member of those boards, I was aware of the applications but played no active part in their submissions. Given the proximity in timing of the UNGI program to the federal election, it will be up to the next elected government to determine how it intends to proceed with this UNGI initiative.
I remain highly interested in innovative renewable energy technologies. Such innovation will be important to the transition of our energy and transportation systems to combat climate change. For instance, I am an active supporter of new hydrogen technologies, as well as the opportunities that can be gained from very large solar projects, such as in Western Australia. Both these initiatives can create enormous export opportunities for Australia. I have no current financial interest in any such businesses or technologies.
I am very supportive of new storage infrastructure that will support dispatchable renewable energy coming on line. I have objected, however, to the Liberal Party’s mischaracterisation of Snowy 2.0 as new generation. It is a storage system that does not generate energy in its own right. In fact, it will use more energy to pump the water uphill than it will generate when the water is released. Its utility will be in releasing the stored renewable energy at the time of day that it is needed.
It is also important to note that Snowy 2.0 is a massive undertaking that has already blown out to 8 years of construction time and over $5 billion to build. At this stage, the project is still going through feasibility studies, so until there is certainty of if and when it will proceed and clarity of its impact on the market, other private sector projects will be delayed.
Snowy 2.0 is a highly concentrated solution to our energy storage needs. It is effectively placing ‘all our eggs in the one storage basket’. The national energy system would be better served with a wider range of smaller storage projects that are geographically spread across the network, faster to deliver, closer to transmission lines and more predictable in their impact on the energy market and other projects. The lack of certainty in Snowy 2.0 is increasing the economic risk of other projects and stalling them from proceeding.
The government should never just build such major projects itself without firstly testing whether there are better private sector solutions available.
Oliver Yates has more than 25 years of global experience in banking and finance. He has had a long-term career in establishing international renewable energy businesses and investment in emissions reduction activities. He has led studies and run projects for the avoidance of land degradation and deforestation. He was recently the inaugural CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, established by the Australian Government, which has made investment commitments of over $6 billion to clean energy projects.
Oliver is a respected renewable energy expert. Over his career, he has been involved in the financing of numerous power projects, as well as infrastructure, property and aircraft assets. He has also been an active participant in policy debate throughout his life, and most particularly a strong advocate for urgent climate change action, based on the clear and compelling science.
He has decided that he must stand at this election because of his concern that the current Federal Government denies and ignores the serious threat of climate change and its risk to all citizens, our children’s future and our national treasures. Oliver believes that the Government’s failure to adopt a risk-based approach to addressing climate change is a clear indication that it either doesn’t care or is blatantly denying the science of climate change.
As a former senior executive within the Macquarie Group, Oliver was involved in establishing new businesses and growing the bank’s operations internationally, as well as leading the bank’s initiatives in wind, solar, biofuels, carbon credits and other renewable businesses.
Early on, Oliver brought his concern about climate change to his Macquarie career. He recommended a strategy to undertake research into global investment opportunities for environmental improvement. In 2008, he established Macquarie’s Utilities and Climate Change group to develop capacity in environmental markets and financing of greenfield renewable energy infrastructure. He then led Macquarie’s partial acquisition of Climate Friendly, now Australia’s highest rated and largest voluntary carbon action business.
Oliver also established the BioCarbon Group that became a leading international investor in emerging markets, specialising in land-based projects, from conserving the natural environment, to sustainable agriculture, to energy services. With Oliver’s involvement, BioCarbon led schemes that sought to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. BioCarbon remains part-owned by Macquarie, along with the IFC arm of the World Bank.
Later, Oliver led a joint task force for Macquarie to develop conservation projects funded through the revenue from the carbon markets, working withFlora and Fauna International, a renowned conservation innovator that continues to make a lasting impact on global biodiversity. He also led the establishment African Clean Energy Development, a clean energy business to address climate change and energy sustainability.
In 2010 at Macquarie, Oliver formed the Green Grid consortium on behalf of the South Australian government, to assess transmission investment opportunities to unlock large scale renewable energy generation projects in South Australia. The consortium proposed a Green Grid on the Eyre Peninsula, a region long recognised for its significant wind resource but constrained due to the lack of electricity transmission infrastructure. The proposed grid would be supported by system upgrades in South Australia and to the Heywood interconnector to Victoria, as well as further extensions to allow South Australia to be a significant, reliable exporter of wind generated electricity into the National Electricity Market. The consortium also proposed a new, more equitable approach to funding network extensions, with costs recovered proportionately from generators that would ensure the best outcome for electricity customers.
Prior to this, Oliver represented Macquarie in working with the Clinton Foundation and the Victorian government on a business case for the CarbonNet Project, investigating the potential for establishing a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in the LaTrobe valley.
Oliver has most recently been a Board member of the Smart Energy Council, a position he was pleased to take due to this government’s inaction and policy vacuum in relation to climate change. Oliver’s commitment to this cause is only heightened with the increase of carbon emissions in every year of this Liberal government.
Fundamentally, Oliver is concerned that the lack of policy certainty only ensures that the renewable energy projects required to replace the ageing coal-fired generators have a higher risk profile which will require higher returns to the project developers and, in turn, lead to higher prices to customers.
Oliver has also recently been a Board member of ClimateWorks, an independent, research-based, non-profit organisation that is committed to catalysing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. ClimateWorks has built a reputation as a trusted, credible and fact-based broker, working in partnership with leaders from the private, public and non-profit sectors. Oliver has taken leave of absence from the Board as a result of his standing for this election.
Oliver has long been an advocate for Australia and other countries to each commit to decarbonisation pathways and science-based emissions reduction targets to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees. This will require significant investment, with supportive policies and regulation that recognises the level of urgency. It will also require embracing of new technologies to facilitate a decentralised, decarbonised and digitised electricity system. Oliver also advocates the opportunities for renewable energy storage in the form of transportable renewable fuels and chemicals, including hydrogen.
To stand for this election, Oliver has resigned as an executive director at Macquarie where, most recently, he was leading an initiative called Pathway Investments that is pursuing global, long lead-time investments for countries to achieve significant decarbonisation targets. Oliver has also resigned as an executive director at UPC Renewables Australia that is developing significant renewable energy projects in Tasmania and NSW. He has also resigned from the advisory board of H2U, a developer of renewables-based hydrogen projects; as a director of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, which is a mega 15GW renewable energy project in the Pilbara, WA, including export capability; and finally as a director of Baroota Pumped Hydro that is developing a pumped storage project in South Australia.
It is clear that Oliver has made an enormous contribution of time and expertise to businesses and projects that will help address climate change. His concern for urgent action on climate change was further highlighted last year with the release of the latest IPCC 1.5 Report, clearly indicating that the climate change challenge is now a global emergency.
In this election, his simple message is that we must all do everything in our power to hand our children the same environment that we inherited ourselves. That is why Oliver is standing as a candidate in this election, to replace a former Environment and Energy Minister and now Federal Treasurer that has so blatantly left Australia in the energy transition slow lane.
As more and more people are recognising, this is the first generation that is seeing the real impacts of climate change, but the last generation that has any chance of making a meaningful response. Oliver is determined to ensure that climate change is top of the political agenda and that Australia captures the economic opportunities in being a world leader in this vital energy transition.