Interview with Kier Shorey, ABC Far North Queensland

Kieran Shorey
Daintree renewable microgrid

KIER SHOREY: So today the federal government is announcing almost $19 million over three years to develop a renewable energy microgrid for the Daintree region. So it's going to have a solar farm, battery storage, also a clean hydrogen plant as well. And, of course, you know, that Daintree forest is in the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics of Queensland. Tim Wilson is the Assistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction. So, Assistant Minister, welcome on.

TIM WILSON: Good morning here. Lovely to be on.

KIER SHOREY: So why does the Daintree need this microgrid?

TIM WILSON: Well, this microgrid will give the opportunity for the Daintree community to essentially become energy independent. What we know is that the expense - it is very expensive power resulting from diesel generation, which not just consumes up to 4 million litres of diesel fuel each year, but also, of course, emits 2000 tons of CO2 per annum or thereabouts each year. So we're cutting emissions, we're cutting costs, and we're making the Daintree community energy independent. And, of course, the local federal member up there, Warren Entsch, he's a fighter and has been fighting for a long time for this project.

KIER SHOREY: And Assistant Minister, I need to move on to the question of whether or not residents in the area necessarily want it. You do talk about the idea that there are diesel generators there, but many of them have their stand-alone systems as well. Have we actually canvassed whether residents in the community want this microgrid?

TIM WILSON: Well, there was a whole feasibility study looking at the microgrid and its potential, and there'll always be people who want a backup system. Of course, that's their freedom and that's their choice. But what we want to do is make sure that residents have an option, that they can be sustainable, they can reduce their emissions footprint, and, of course, that they can have an option to get off diesel, which, of course, has a significant cost every year for small businesses in the community and, of course, households, many of which are paying thousands of dollars a year for simple energy consumption that's relatively cost-effective in the cities.

KIER SHOREY: The feasibility study has never been made public, even though residents some residents in the area have applied to make it public under freedom of information. So why is that study never been made public?

TIM WILSON: Well, those FOI's go through to the department, but in the end, it's really about making sure there's a proper, comprehensive plan that informs government decision making because it's, of course, commercially sensitive information in there and intelligence in there that's very important for the viability of lots of parts of the project. A lot of the IP is world-leading and innovative, and as a consequence, people don't want all the companies developed out there in the public domain.

KIER SHOREY: There are some residents that might not want to connect to the microgrid Assistant Minister. Is that going to affect the commercial viability of the project?

TIM WILSON: Well, of course, there will always be people who want to remain independent and or, of course have backup plans and of course it's their choice in a free society but that doesn't mean anywhere else in the country, at any other structure for instance, people don't want to connect to the NBN that we have, junk the NBN, or people don't want to be connected to the main electricity network in the cities, that people don't - we don't build the infrastructure. So the viability of the project will be focused on making sure it's worth people jumping on so that there's advantages and so they can cut their greenhouse gas emissions and of course make sure they cut their costs too. 

KIER SHOREY: Almost $19 million is being spent over three years. Does that mean the microgrid will be there happening in three years time?

TIM WILSON: Well, it will be important to make sure we get this project out and it's going to begin operations in 2024. Yes. So it's an exciting project and one that really is world-leading and one world-leading for the Daintree community. But more critically, Warren Entsch the local member has fought for this project in Canberra in the entire time I've been there and so it's really a delivery of what he's run on election platform to deliver for the Leichhardt electorate to give choice back to consumers and of course, to empower them to be part of getting Australia to carbon neutrality by 2050. 

KIER SHOREY: Tim Wilson thank you so much for your time. Enjoy your time in the Daintree today.

TIM WILSON: Thanks Kier.

KIER SHOREY: That is the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Tim Wilson.