Queensland’s new Energy Minister not new to energy issues
Energy policy played a leading role in the recent Queensland election. The returned government led by Annastacia Palazsczuk took a range of proposals to the polls that will mean significant changes in Queensland energy system that will require careful stewardship.
This week the Premier announced that Dr Anthony Lynham would head up the energy portfolio to steer the state’s energy system through this period of change. The energy portfolio had previously been overseen by Mark Bailey, who has now been appointed as the Minister for Transport and Main Roads in the new Labor Government.
Dr Lynham, who was previously the Minister for State Development and Natural Resources and Mines, retains the Natural Resources and Mines portfolio but relinquishes State Development. Dr Lynham is considered a right factional ally of the Premier.[i]
Queensland’s Energy Agenda
Amongst the Queensland Government’s energy initiatives that Dr Lynham will be required to oversee, is a proposal to establish a government-owned “CleanCo”. This new entity is intended to operate existing renewable and low-emission energy generation assets and develop and oversee new renewable energy generation projects. The Government has proposed that investigation into the restructuring of the existing two government-owned generators, including establishment of CleanCo, occur in the first half of 2018.
The government also restated its firm commitment to an ambitious 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 during the campaign.
Just prior to the election it also established a Queensland Energy Security Taskforce to provide advice on short and long term strategies “to maintain energy system security, affordability and reliability for households and businesses while encouraging and transitioning to a higher level of renewable energy”.
The Government has also committed to:
- Undertaking reverse auctions to deliver 400MW of renewables projects (including 100MW of storage).
- Reinvesting Powerlink dividends for the development of strategic transmission infrastructure linking Far North, Central and North Queensland through renewable energy hubs.
- $100m reinvested from Stanwell dividends for a feasibility study into the expansion of Queensland’s hydro-electric facilities – specifically at Burdekin Falls.
(Further details of the energy policies the Palaszczuk took to the polls can be found here.)
A New Energy Minister… But Not New to Energy Issues
Dr Lynham’s previous portfolio responsibilities have meant he is familiar with the energy sector. He has been involved with energy developments such as the Kidston Hydro Solar Project in North Queensland, which includes a 250MW pumped hydro storage project and more than 300MW solar farm, as well as Queensland’s LNG and coal seam gas industry at the former Kidston gold mine.
He has also emphasised the importance of gas to the transition in the state’s energy mix during his time in the Palazsczuk Cabinet. In 2016 he gave what was described at the time as a “spirited defence” of the CSG industry when addressing the Local Government Association of Queensland[ii].
Dr Lynham told the October 2016 forum that he “envisaged gas-fired power stations to do the heavy lifting in Queensland going forward”. Gas-fired power, he said, provided the "perfect co-existence model" alongside renewable energy sources, such as solar, hydro and wind.
"If nature gives up, we've got to have something to switch on and gas is the ideal power source to do that," he said.
"I just wish the other states would put their hands up and help a little bit, because it's us and South Australia, essentially, and the north-west shelf.
"…Gas is, no doubt, the fuel of the future and I laugh sometimes that when the gas industry first started up in Queensland, some of the conservation groups were promoting it as a clean, green fuel.” [iii]
He went on to say that the drift away from coal-powered electricity had started well before the Queensland Government had set its 50 per cent renewable target.
"The cost of refurbing some of our old coal-fired generators is just prohibitive, so you just don't do it," he said. “You swap it with a gas-fired generator, which is much more productive, much cheaper and has much less greenhouse gas emitted.
"Gas-fired generators have the advantage – and you can hear South Australia wishing for more gas-fired generators – because you can switch them on and off really quickly, unlike coal, which you've got to ramp up and keep burning all the time."[iv]
Dr Lynham also oversaw the banning of the underground coal gasification (UCG). On 24 August the Minister announced that new laws introducing the ban had passed through Parliament. In considering the ban he said the risks that UCG posed outweighed any potential positives. This followed the trialling of three small scale UCG operations.
“An independent scientific panel report on the pilot trials found that sufficient scientific and technical information was not yet available to reach a final conclusion about the operation of this industry on a commercial scale.”[v]
He also increased access to onshore gas. In January this year he announced the release of about 58 square kilometres of land for gas exploration in the Surat Basin, under the condition that any gas produced must be used in Australia. At the time Dr Lynham said “gas is a significant transition energy source as we head to a renewable energy future”.[vi] He also noted that Queensland continued to do the heavy lifting on gas and energy policy to deal with the forecast east coast gas shortage.
In September Dr Lynham announced that a further 395 km2 of land in the Surat and Bowen basins would be open to tender for domestic gas supply. Bids to develop this land closed on 8 December[vii].
On his website Dr Lynham comments on the state’s renewable energy projects and says: “I’m proud to be part of a government that is committed to transitioning to a cleaner greener renewable energy economy while maintaining affordability for Queenslanders.”
He goes on to say that he remains committed to ensuring a just transition, working closely with our workers, industry and broader community to ensure all Queenslanders are part of our clean energy future.
Parliamentary and Medical Career
Dr Lynham was first elected on a 19 July 2014 when he was swept into the State Parliament on a 19.1 per cent swing in the Stafford by-election. He defeated the LNP’s candidate Bob Andersen with a 62 percent two-party vote. He was quickly appointed to the then Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Education, IT and Innovation, Primary Industries and Fisheries. Following Labor’s success in the subsequent 2015 state poll he was appointed to Cabinet as Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines.
At the time of his candidacy for Stafford, the Courier Mail described him as someone who broke the Labor mold.[viii]
Before entering Parliament as the Member for the Brisbane seat of Stafford in 2014, Dr Lynham worked as a maxillofacial surgeon. Dr Lynham is an Adjunct Professor at QUT and an Associate Professor at the University Of Queensland School Of Medicine.
Dr Lynham graduated in medicine from the University of Newcastle and completed his maxillofacial surgery training in Queensland. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He worked most of his medical career at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and is part of a research team at Prince Charles Hospital. Dr Lynham also served in the Australian Army.[ix]
[v] Queensland Government Media Release, 24 August 2017
[vi] Queensland Government Media Release, 25 January 2017
[vii] Queensland Government Media Release, 6 September 2017