Take that solar sign down, Queensland

“Welcome to the solar state: We’re doubling Queensland’s use of solar energy in five years”

I’VE driven passed this Queensland Government advertising hoarding a handful of times in recent weeks. It’s on the road out of Brisbane airport and, personally, I think they (they, being the state government) should take it down.

Why? Because it’s misleading. Allow me to explain.

Firstly, Queensland might be the sunshine state, but it certainly ain’t the solar state.

According to the Queensland Renewable Energy Plan, last year only about 150 MW of the state’s 12,500 MW of installed electricity generation was coming from solar. That’s 1.2 per cent of clean, renewable energy emitting no greenhouse gases once installed.

Now the Queensland Government counts solar hot water heaters in that 150 MW. Obviously solar hot water heaters don’t generate any power at all, but they do reduce the amount of power which would have been drawn from the grid.

If you take solar hot water heaters out of the equation, the renewable energy plan says you’re left with 6MW, or 0.048 per cent of all the available power.

Now since that report was compiled, things have got a bit better or, rather, slightly less worse. Thousands of people have installed solar panels at home to take advantage of the Queensland Government’s net feed-in-tariff . Thousands more have stuck solar hot water heaters on their roof (including me), encouraged by Federal and State Government rebates.

As I’ve written a story about this issue which hasn’t yet been published, I’ll have to hold back on some of the detail for now, but I think most people would agree that Queensland is an awful long way from being in a position to declare itself a “solar state”. Perhaps if you were to get to the point where most of your energy was coming from solar, then you’d be on more solid ground.

To get an idea of how all of this looks in the bigger scheme of things, we can compare that entire state-wide 150 MW of solar energy to one single coal-fired power station. I’m going to take Tarong, which serves the southeast corner of Queensland. This single coal-fired power station has a generating capacity alone of 1400 MW and is one of the largest of more than a dozen coal-fired power stations in Queensland.

In data submitted to the Federal Government, in the year 2008/09 Tarong power station emitted 6,714,430 tonnes of greenhouse gases (bundled together and reported as CO2-equivalent). Tarong, which is owned by the Queensland Government, also has a second smaller power station known as Tarong North, which emitted a further 2,649,130 tonnes.

Now, let’s fantasise for a while that Australia introduced a tax on emissions. If you take the cheap-and-cheerful $23 per tonne suggested by The Greens as an interim price, that potentially exposes Tarong shareholders (as a state-owned corporation, that’s the State Government) to about $215 million of costs.

In one of those ironic twists that you couldn’t make up, the very next billboard on the road out of the airport is another Queensland Government effort, this time to encourage people to buy shares in QR National.

This rail hauler says proudly in its advertising that it carries “500,000 tonnes of coal a day”. If ever there was a reason not to invest in something then, for me, that would be it.

“Welcome to the coal state”

UPDATE: A pic of the QR National billboard.


Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

14 thoughts on “Take that solar sign down, Queensland”

  1. I think the sign is misleading. Maybe it should say, ‘Get your solar hot water rebate now’ as the sign is really about Do the Bright Thing. It doesn’t seem right that the sign gives the impression Qld has solar thermal power plants and PV everywhere. Actually we could get there, despite the high upfront cost of achieving it… hear about it at 6pm, 27 Oct, Brisbane Convention Centre. RSVP http://www.beyondzeroemissions.org/events

    As for the coal infrastructure (rail) sell off… I reckon the Qld Govt is right to profit from the sell off of this particular asset before the coal industry realises that coal needs to be phased out within 10 years and that a price on carbon is coming. Also, the coal industry wants the infrastructure upgraded so I don’t want taxpayers footing the bill for coal infrastructure.

  2. Graham,

    If you are driving past the sign in a car running on fossil fuels to an airport for aircraft running on fossil fuels, then perhaps you are part of the precipitate (as opposed to the solution).

    “Welcome to Tunnel City, capital of the Coal State”.




    1. Or perhaps I was picking people up from said airport, and perhaps emissions from said car get offset (not ideal I grant you, but better than nothing)… and perhaps power from computer for the typing of said words is 100% offset by purchase of renewable energy certificates… and perhaps the web hosts of said blog also purchase carbon offsets…..

  3. The QR rail shares billboard has ‘Be Part of Something Big’ emblazoned on hulking wagons of coal.

    Indeed, something big – if we want to be part of exporting catastrophic climate change to the world.

    Queensland has so much scope to become the solar state, so let’s get on with the transition, rather than falsely claiming we’re already there!

  4. There is nothing wrong with tunnels. Maybe we need more of then?

    It’s tunnels that made London a lower carbon operation, as compared with the classic North American and Australian city. It’s called the Underground! It’s what you put in the tunnels that counts.

  5. Welcome to the solar state! Now, can we interest you in some QR National shares? We move 500,000 tonnes of coal…er sunshine a day!

    The billboard is the worst form of greenwash I have ever seen. It is deliberately misleading, and to be honest, offensive. “Do the bright thing” is a good initiative in theory, but is completely undermined (…) by the Government’s other activities. How can we get excited about forking out for solar panels, when everyone knows the Govt is making no effort to shift away from coal? (rather, rapidly expanding: http://www.smh.com.au/business/adani-says-65b-coalmine-will-be-countrys-biggest-20100928-15vta.html).

    How much responsibility should fall onto individuals to reduce emissions, and how much upon governments and corporations? It seems clear to me that the Govt does not take climate change seriously at all, and is more than happy to shamelessly shift all responsibility onto its citizens.

  6. The Sign is misleading and its intent is misguided.

    It is actually not that bright to encourage Queenslanders to install, subsidized photovoltaic panels on domestic dwellings.

    In a State that has limited capital, PV is probably not a good investment.

    If one was designing a city from scratch, one might go for decentralised, distributed energy generation…..but we already have an existing electricty grid, and the most efficient use of existing infrastructure would be large scale solar thermal power generation (to replace Swanbank).

  7. “There is a train to (&from) the airport. It is not ideal, I grant you, but it is better than said car.”

    If Graham or his friends had taken the train from the airport, how could he have photographed the billboards and shared this blog with us?

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