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state political reporter Kate McKenna and staff

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces $62b clean energy plan including 'world's largest pumped hydro energy storage'

Queensland will be home to the world's "largest" pumped hydro scheme and stop "regular reliance" on coal by 2035, under a $62 billion energy plan announced by the Palaszczuk government.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unveiled the state government's new 10-year energy plan, which she said was estimated to support nearly 100,000 jobs by 2040, in her CEDA State of the State address.

She also said the state government's new renewable energy targets — of 70 per cent by 2032 and 80 per cent by 2035 — will be legislated, and Queensland's coal-fired powers stations will progressively become "clean energy hubs".

"We must invest now. Not just for our climate," she said.

"We must address this issue at the same time we focus on new job opportunities to bring everyone along with the clean energy industrial revolution at our doorstep."

The $62 billion of investment up to 2035 would be between the public and private sectors, Ms Palaszczuk said, including a "new down payment [today] of $4 billion committed by our government over the next four years".

The government said "just over half" of the $34 billion funding for the new power generation was expected to come from the state government.

"This will be factored into our borrowings and the modelling supports us," she added.

She said a detailed treasury analysis found the overall investment would not affect the Queensland's credit rating and would "still mean our net debt is lower than New South Wales or Victoria".

Ms Palaszczuk said the Queensland government would like to see contributions from the federal government, especially on the hydro projects.

"We'll be having detailed conversations with our colleagues, but my conversations with the prime minister are encouraging," she said.

"Then, of course, looking at partnerships with the private sector."

Project 'bigger than Snowy Hydro'

The energy plan includes two pumped hydros by 2035: the first at Borumba Dam, and a second site, announced on Wednesday, situated 70 kilometres west of Mackay.

Known as the Pioneer-Burdekin pumped hydro project, Ms Palaszczuk said "I prefer to call it the battery of the north".

"It will be the largest pumped hydro energy storage in the world, with 5 gigawatts of 24-hour storage and the potential for stage 1 to be completed by 2032," she said.

"I would like you to picture that these combined projects would position Queensland's hydro storage as a percentage energy use above Europe, China or the US.

"These are projects of national significance on a scale not seen since the construction of Snowy Hydro — bigger than Snowy Hydro."

She also said there would be a new transmission "super grid" to connect renewable storage with established regional centres.

Currently about 21.4 per cent of electricity used in the state comes from renewables.

Ms Palaszczuk said the state could not reach net zero without storing renewable energy to make it reliable.

"And with climate change there will be more unseasonal rain and other weather events that impact on the reliability of renewables," she said.

"These events can last for days — current battery technologies can't at scale.

"That's why more pumped hydro energy storage is needed."

Both sites will be subject to environmental assessments.

Coal-fired power stations to become clean energy hubs

Ms Palaszczuk said existing coal-fired power stations would gradually become clean energy hubs from 2027.

"Infrastructure at the clean energy hubs will include: continuing to use the large spinning turbines at the power stations to provide strength for the energy system to take more renewables; grid scale batteries; gas and then later hydrogen power stations; and maintenance hubs for nearby government-owned renewable wind and solar farms," she said.

"That means that these energy hubs will continue to contribute to regional economies."

She said the government would not convert coal power stations "until there is a replacement firmed generation".

Ms Palaszczuk also announced there would be an "energy workers charter and jobs security guarantee", to ensure workers have the opportunity to continue their careers with publicly-owned energy businesses or elsewhere.

The government signed the charter this afternoon.

"The jobs security guarantee will be backed by a $150 million funding commitment," she said.

"The guarantee will support workers with access to reskilling, transfer to new opportunities and advice on future career pathways.

She said these pathways could include work on the new super grid, jobs in maintenance hubs for renewables, and building and deploying flow battery technologies.

The state government would build transmission and training hubs in Gladstone and Townsville "that will support 570 workers each year".

Ms Palaszczuk said modelling by Ernst and Young estimated that overall, the government's energy and jobs plan "will support nearly 100,000 more jobs".  

The government also said its plan would deliver a 50 per cent reduction in electricity sector emissions on 2005 levels by 2030 and a 90 per cent reduction by 2035-36.

'Enormous opportunities' in resources sector

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane has welcomed the initiative but noted there were serious challenges associated with its implementation.

"The plan provides enormous opportunities in the resources sector in Queensland, both in producing metallurgical or steelmaking coal to build the structures for the wind farms, the aluminium for the solar panels, and the copper for the power lines," Mr Macfarlane said.

"But it does come with some risk — we need to ensure that the transition is one that is managed very tightly, that power remains reliable and affordable, and that we have the investors internationally who want to come in behind this plan.

"Obviously, investor confidence has been shaken very badly by the sudden increase in royalties in Queensland and to get investors in here will be one of the challenges in terms of ensuring that renewable energy structures are opened."

Mr Macfarlane said he had reservations over how the plan would be funded.

"Anything is achievable at a cost and cost will be the big issue — you can build anything, but it's the price that household consumers and industry consumers will have to pay that will be the question.

"If the transition causes the lights to go out, or for power to escalate in price like it is in Europe, then Queenslanders will lose their jobs and not be able to pay their power bills at home."

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said he doubted the state government would have any issues in attracting funding for the plan.

"The Queensland government is in a very strong and attractive position in terms of their ownership of a lot of parts of the energy infrastructure here in Queensland," Mr Thornton said.

"That allows them to be able to attract investment and put in some funding commitment as the government has put on the table today.

"Private sector investors are enthusiastic to invest in clean energy — it's the lowest cost form of investment."

'A great step towards decarbonising our electricity grid'

Ariane Wilkinson, Great Barrier Reef program manager for the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia, said the announcement demonstrated it was never too late to take climate action.

"In terms of climate damage, there's a lot of damage that's been done that can't be reversed," Ms Wilkinson said.

"But the reality is that there's so much that can be saved, and so much about our way of life that can be protected, and this is a really good step to keep emissions down, protect our way of life, and stop further climate damage that will occur with a continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

"This is certainly going to protect Queensland, particularly the Great Barrier Reef, and it's a great step towards decarbonising our electricity grid."

Maggie McKeown, climate and energy campaigner with Queensland Conservation Council, welcomed the plan, but urged the state government to continue networking with stakeholders.

"The key to a plan like this is ongoing community and expert consultation," Ms McKeown said.

"Every year more Queenslanders want greater climate action — we hope that the government will be able to consult closely with community and experts over the next 10 years.

"This marks a major turning point for the Queensland government and is going to leave behind uncertainty and unlock a major pathway to renewable energy and replacing the majority of our coal-fired power stations by 2035.

"It's a great, great plan."

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