News from the front desk: Issue 312 – On the energy buzz that won’t be blacked out

Melbourne was on fire on Thursday. Streets buzzing, music on seemingly every corner and even Docklands looking remarkably plump; still lots of filler to go of course but still, a huge difference to the wasteland effect of just a couple of years ago. Oh, and the sun was shining.

We were here for the All-Energy 2016 conference starting on Tuesday and shooting our very first video interview, needing to be pulled back of course, from turning it into a feature length doco. But just like it’s hard to stop at one interview in this exciting new format, it’s hard to stop at one conference. We also called in to the Victorian Property Council’s Growth Summit 2016 at Docklands to pick up the vibe at the top end of town in development. And wow does Melbourne have ambitions for growth!

First on the All-Energy. On camera now, awaiting the cuts and so on, are three of the most deeply embedded people in the renewables and energy grid space: Amy Kean, NSW Renewable Energy Advocate; Craig Chambers, AECOM’s market sector director – power; and energy guru Alan Pears who is probably one of the most accessible and respected advocates for efficiency and renewables in Australia.

All three will make fabulous viewing and in particular because we asked another expert in that patch, Jon Jutsen, to do the interview honours. He was great. Missed his calling as a journo, we reckon. Great questions and like a real pro didn’t hesitate to throw in some curly political ones, even though he’d been warned that our interviewees might need to politely deflect.

But how could Jutsen resist? Especially given the current (coal fired) electric atmosphere that has swept up our PM Malcolm Turnbull in the wake of the power failure in South Australia during last week’s storm, which saw him not hesitate for a second to use the moment to take a political swipe at renewables.

Poor Mr Turnbull. We’re finding it hard to delete our mental image of him with a soot blackened face he can’t quite get clean (and wondering if he has some sympathy these days for the Vichy regime in wartime France, forced as it was to do the bidding of the enemy).

But it’s all too late. The blackfaces are loosing. The renewables and energy productivity industry is going gangbusters if All-Energy was anything to go by. The PM’s spray against renewables was seen as no more than an annoyance rather than a hindrance.

In the exhibition centre were hundreds of businesses with an abundance of displays and claims, their staff emitting the quiet ease of people doing very well indeed. An elderly gentleman from Queensland who shared our table mentioned he’d made a lot of of money out of solar and had come to the event since it started five years ago.

Community solar was a highlight session, as were the galloping developments in technology. More evidence of an industry on the rise was Stephen Bygrave, executive director of sustainability and climate change for the ACT government who delivered an exciting presentation on day one on the ACT’s plan for 100 per cent renewables. Why? Two reasons: one was that he focused on what a post 100 per cent renewables world would like for the ACT – time to start planning now, he said. Second was that his appointment by the ACT is itself a signal we’ve entered a new phase in the renewables story.

In July we’d run a story that he’d been headhunted by the Queensland government from his former role as chief executive of Beyond Zero Emissions to deliver on its renewables and zero emissions ambitions. But the ACT, with its own ambitious targets, apparently jumped in with a counter offer for Bygrave. Now both Queensland and BZE are searching for a replacement.

It might have surprised some people to see Queensland snaring Bygrave and also to hear the PM name it as one of the culprits among the states and territories “over-reaching” on renewables. But Queensland has committed to 50 per cent renewables target by 2030 and is looking closely at net zero emissions by 2050.

Our recruitment sources say there is more competition from the the nine big global giants who’ve committed to 100 per cent renewables, including Nike, Google and Apple.

More to come soon on the All-Energy conference.

Melbourne and Boom Bubble and Bust…

Down at Docklands the Property Council’s Growth Summit 2016 was provocatively subtitled Boom Bubble Bust.  But it was the boom bit that nabbed the lion’s share of attention, in particular the city’s potential to grow to 10 million people and overtake Sydney by 2050. Why? Because it’s got so much space. By that the speakers referred to greenfield sites.

Peter Seamer, chief executive of the Victorian Planning Authority whose job it is to deliver new growth corridors for Melbourne, happily shared that Melbourne had 900 hectares of land within a five kilometre radius of the city, something no other city had.

Unlike the interminable planning and affordability issues in Sydney, here there was barely a whiff of problems from community opposition, instead a happy reference to lower housing prices and the importance of keeping them that way, and a firm belief that the market would self correct for oversupply. (Well, it always does, though typically not without pain.)

On the issue of apartments built with lower amenity than will be the case for apartment that come on line under the new higher quality guidelines, well the market would self regulate there too, saidCharter Keck Cramer’s Robert Papaleo.  These would become the more affordable living options,  though not for everyone and not for ever.

Left to right: Carolyn Viney, Vicinity Centres;

Left to right: Carolyn Viney, Vicinity Centres; Sarah Horsfield, Urbis; Christian Grahame, Mirvac; Craig Newman, Charter Hall; Sally Capp, Victorian Property Council executive director

Carolyn Viney, appointed executive general manager of development at Vicinity Centres in September, after leaving the chief executive position top job at Grocon, in June, responded to the mention of Sydney’s recent achievements in infrastructure in particular – trains, road, and a new airport – by saying it had been after a too-long hiatus.

“Sydney is making up for at least 10 years of doing almost nothing,” she said. “It’s been the biggest economic  employer, home to the biggest number of people and had the biggest intake of immigration,” yet Melbourne had done so much more in recent years because Sydney was not doing its fair share.

“It’s fabulous now but if we moderated Sydney over the past 20 years it would not be so impressive.”

Charter Hall’s Prime Office Fund manager, Craig Newman, asked about the future of office parks and the tech sector admitted that start up and established companies alike now preferred to be in the city centre. Start ups might not be able to afford the rents but being close to the bars and action was definitely their preferred location.

Urbis director Sarah Horsfield, who was facilitator for the event, towards the end gently brought a focus to the need for community discussion. Mention Melbourne at 10 million to ordinary people and they would probably be very worried, she said. These were conversations that needed to be started, and soon, she said.

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