Anthony Albanese announces Solar SunShot manufacturing program to boost Australian production

Anthony Albanese announces Solar SunShot manufacturing program to boost Australian production
  • PublishedMarch 28, 2024

The prime minister has travelled to coal mining heartland in the New South Wales Hunter Valley to announce a $1 billion program that aims to boost the number of solar panels made in Australia.

One in three Australian households have solar panels, the highest rate in the world, but only 1 per cent of them are manufactured locally.

The federal government hopes to change that with its new Solar SunShot program, which will oversee production subsidies and grants to increase Australia’s role in the global solar manufacturing supply chain.

Mr Albanese told ABC Radio Newcastle that the site of the closed Liddell Power Station near Muswellbrook would be developed as a solar manufacturing hub.

“Liddell, of course, helped to power New South Wales for a long period of time in the last century and into this one,” he said.

“Now, the production that will occur there will help power New South Wales and Australia, and potentially have export potential as well.”

He said the program was being started in the NSW Hunter region to make sure coal-communities such as Muswellbrook and Singleton weren’t left behind as mines and power stations shut down in the coming decades.

“There are other planned closures in the future … [it is important] that we look for opportunities that workers continue to be employed in alternative, high-paying secure jobs,” Mr Albanese said.

“That is what we are about using industry policy, particularly when it comes to manufacturing, because we want a future made here in Australia.”

Major investment

Anthony Albanese said a majority of the billion-dollar commitment would be used on the transformation of Liddell, with the rest of the funding available to other projects.

“This is the largest announcement of its type that has been made in Australia’s history because the Liddell site, I can’t think of one that is more important,” Mr Albanese said.

He said an Australian-based solar company would come to Liddell to start manufacturing solar panels.

He said the government was looking at creating more jobs than were previously at Liddell when it was operating as a coal-fired power station.

“So we’re looking at hundreds of jobs being created, but the flow on impact as well for the region,” he said.

The owner of the Liddell Power Station site, AGL, and solar startup SunDrive have begun a partnership to investigate how they might transform the station to a manufacturing plant

“From a material point of view, Australia is in the top three global reserves in every major mineral that is needed to make a solar panel” said SunDrive CEO Vincent Allen.

He said the other benefit of domestic solar panel production was to save on importation costs.

“If you’re in Australia and you buy a solar panel, about 15 per cent of the cost is just to get it to Australia.”

Welcome boost

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said he was pleased the government had announced the plan within the first year of Liddell’s closure.

Mr Hawes said the site was well entrenched in terms of existing power and power network.

“Things like this do require enormous amounts of power, and if Australia has to meet its net zero targets, we have to think about putting these new heavy manufacturing industries close to where those power generation networks exist,” he said.

Mr Hawes said he expected the Liddell plan would have flow-on benefits to other local businesses, and the community as a whole.

“We get inquiries now from [manufacturing] businesses here that are supplying transport or other industries, but they’re keen on knowing what might be happening in the renewable energy industry,” he said.

“They want a way to diversify their business and grow into those new industries.”

However, he said the government needed to plan further for the transition away from the coal industry, particularly in pivoting the skills of existing energy workers.

“It’s just a matter of redirecting some of the existing pathways that we have to provide people those opportunities should they choose to wish to go into those industries,” he said.

Net Zero plans

The Solar SunShot program will be developed alongside the government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which already manages a similar hydrogen investment program.

A group of people in front of a closed coal fired power station
Anthony Albanese made the announcement at Liddell power station on Thursday.(ABC Newcastle: Jesmine Cheong)

The Prime Minister’s office said in a statement that “ARENA will look at the entire supply chain” in the solar manufacturing space, and how the government can provide grants to boost domestic solar-technology innovation.

Greens senator David Shoebridge welcomed the solar manufacturing funding, but called on the government to take its spending on green energy a step further.

“Right now, the Albanese Government is investing some billions of dollars in renewables, while opening up fresh coal and gas projects,” he said.

“You can’t have it both ways. We say to the Albanese government, deliver coherent policy, which has to be all about renewables and needs to permanently move away from coal and gas.”

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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