WA’s peak body for conservation and the environment has welcomed spending for new renewable energy infrastructure in the state budget, but stressed that more must be done to support nature and biodiversity.
New green energy package and support for renewables
Today, WA Premier Mark McGowan announced a $2.8 billion package to support new renewable energy projects, with $2.3 billion of that amount allocated to the construction of a new 500MW ‘big battery’ at Collie and the expansion of the 200MW battery at Kwinana.
Investment in battery storage technology is a key component of the transition to renewable energy, allowing for power generated by solar and wind to be stored for later use.
The package also included an extra 210MW of wind energy generation with a new wind farm to be built at King Rocks, near Hyden in the Central Wheatbelt. Potential for further investment in existing windfarms at Warradarge and Eneabba – which currently generate a combined 360MW – also featured.
A key component of the state government’s green energy plan is a $126 million fund to begin planning for upgrades to the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) power grid. The SWIS - which runs from Kalbarri, through Perth before extending south and east to Albany and Kalgoorlie – will see another 4,000KM of new transmission lines added to connect to new large-scale renewable energy sources.
The plan is particularly geared towards supporting and incentivising industry to electrify their operations.
Anna Chapman, Fossil Fuels Program Manager at the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA), said: “We welcome the state government’s plan for $3 billion in funding towards decarbonising WA’s heavy industry, through electrification. This will help our state in meeting our net-zero targets.
“Heavy industry makes up a significant proportion of our state’s emissions and it is great to see decarbonisation of industry emerging as a priority for the state government.
“We also welcome the announcement of new large-scale renewable sites, which are key to ending our dependence on highly polluting fossil fuel powered electricity generation.
“However, approvals for big new fossil fuel export projects – such as Woodside’s Scarborough and Browse gas projects, along with the North West shelf extension - remain a concern and are out of step with today’s announcement.
“The state government should align all its plans with its net zero goal, which means no new approvals for gas projects.”
Native forests receive $36 million for management plan
The budget also included a further $36 million in funding to resource the ban on native forest logging which will come into effect in January 2024.
The funds will be allocated to the creation of new full-time positions at the department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and the Forest Products Commission, in support of the 2024-2033 Forest Management Plan.
The plan will be released in full later this year, but is known to include controversial exemptions for bauxite mining, a major source of deforestation and fragmentation in WA’s native forests, responsible for the clearing of approximately 1,000 hectares each year.
Aside from impacts on biodiversity and threatened species, bauxite mining irreparably changes the soil composition, making true rehabilitation of mining sites impossible.
CCWA Executive Director, Joe Heffernan, said: “The state government’s move to phase out native forest logging in 2021 was widely and warmly welcomed. Our native forests are not just a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, but also one of our best natural defences against climate change, as a carbon sink.
“We have always believed that our forests are better left standing than being exploited for cheap woodchips.
It’s encouraging to see the state government move forward with its plan, but now they need to finish the job and bring in robust protections against all threats to our native forests.
“The pressure being placed on our native forests by bauxite mining, and in particular companies like Alcoa and South 32, have attracted a great deal of scrutiny and criticism. It can’t be the case that we move to protect the forests from logging only to allow them to be destroyed by bauxite mining.
“We need a plan from the state government as to how the destructive impacts of bauxite mining can be substantively reduced to protect our remaining native forests.”
Disaster recovery fund ‘insufficient’ for future needs
A $38 million funding boost to aid WA’s recovery from natural disasters has been described as ‘a good start’, but ‘insufficient’ by CCWA, noting the importance of fully preparing the state to deal with the effects of floods, droughts and bushfires.
The money will create a new dedicated WA recovery team within the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and fund a taskforce to support recovery efforts in the Kimberley, following ex-tropical cycling Ellie.
“Making sure WA is resilient to the effects of climate change is incredibly important”, said Anna Chapman.
“Global warming has already created unavoidable climate change impacts. WA is at the forefront of these impacts including declining rainfall, sea level rise and coastal erosion, drought, more severe and frequent wild fires and heat waves.
“The amount of funding required to address climate related disasters in our state is linked to how quickly we and the rest of the world decarbonise.
“That’s why it is vital the government does not approve further fossil fuel projects. That includes Woodside’s emissions intensive Browse project.”
Funding to support World Heritage Application for Murujuga
CCWA has also welcomed $387,000 in funding to Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) to provide financial support for key projects, including the application for UNESCO World Heritage List, for the Murujuga rock art.
Murujuga contains what is widely considered the world’s oldest and largest art gallery in the world, comprising more than one million pieces of rock art, carved into the rocks over the course of approximately 40,000 years. These petroglyphs are among some of the world’s oldest depictions of human figures and include images of long extinct animals and the first encounters of Aboriginal people with western settlers.
The funding will also contribute towards the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy. A separate fund of $400,000 will coordinate the protection of at-risk cultural heritage sites state-wide while $2.2 million will go towards the Connecting to Country Program with grants of up to $25,000 to Aboriginal organisations to strengthen connections between communities, Country and culture.
More support needed for biodiversity and nature
In a year in which the state budget surplus once again ran in excess of $4 billion, CCWA expressed disappointment that more funds to support the conservation of vulnerable species and to improve biodiversity across the state were not forthcoming.
“Australia’s South West has a higher concentration of rare and endangered species than anywhere else on the continent and steps need to be taken to protect this globally significant biodiversity hotspot”, said Joe Heffernan.
“In the same week that the federal budget failed to generate any major headlines for conservation initiatives, nor significant funding to protect our environment, it is disappointing that the state government has not used its very significant surplus to invest in this area. We invite the government to step up and CCWA will be calling them to account, on behalf of our members.
“Securing the future of our natural environment is one of the most significant investments any government can make.”
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing nearly 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 6558 5156 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]