Environment and Sustainable Development 5 Minute Fix 30: Safeguard mechanism, renewable energy, SA planning review, biodiversity

16 Sep 2022
Time to read: 5 minutes

Climate change

Commonwealth: Safeguard mechanism reform consultation: have your say

The Safeguard Mechanism provides a legislative framework for Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters to measure, report and manage their emissions. The Australian Government is now looking to revise the Safeguard Mechanism so that it aligns with their commitment to national emission reductions of 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

A consultation paper has been released along with some explanatory material which details the reform options being considered, including the following:

  • fixed (absolute) versus production-adjusted (intensity) framework;
  • resetting baselines in a way that removes aggregate headroom so crediting and trading can commence when baselines start to decline;
  • setting baselines for existing and new facilities with:
    • option 1: industry-average benchmark emissions-intensity values;
    • option 2: facility-specific emissions-intensity values;
    • option 3: other available proposals; and
  • introducing credits for facilities that emit less than their baseline.

It is proposed that the Safeguard Mechanism will continue to apply to facilities that emit at least 100,000 tonnes C02-e in a year and that the ‘sectoral’ baseline that applies to electricity generators will remain the same. It is understood that any reforms are scheduled to commence 1 July 2023.

Submissions can be made until 20 September 2022 in the manner prescribed here.

Commonwealth: New offshore GHG storage areas approved as offshore petroleum acreage released

The Australian Government has approved two new greenhouse gas (GHG) storage areas offshore of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The approval of these offshore GHG storage areas is the first since 2014 and is considered a vital part of helping Australia to achieve its target to lower emissions by 43% by 2030.

It is understood that the Commonwealth Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, will soon be finalising all five new offshore GHG storage permits under the 2021 offshore GHG Storage Acreage Release.

Simultaneously with the approval of the offshore GHG storage areas, the Australian Government has announced the 2022 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release, with 47,758 kilometres of new acreage in 10 areas across the Bonaparte Browse, Carnarvon, and Gippsland basins available for exploration. All areas are open for work-program bidding until 2 March 2023 and are to play an important role in securing future energy supplies.

NSW: Blue Carbon Strategy 2022-27 released

On 31 August 2022, the NSW Government released its Blue Carbon Strategy 2022-27, which is a 26-page document aimed at “kick-starting” blue carbon investment in NSW. The Strategy identifies the following five “overarching priorities” with corresponding actions for delivery of those priorities:

  1. conserving blue carbon ecosystems and supporting their adaptation and migration;
  2. delivering blue carbon projects on public, private and First Nations peoples owned and managed land;
  3. embedding blue carbon in coastal and marine policy planning and management;
  4. progressing blue carbon research; and
  5. promoting pathways for blue carbon investment.

As the Strategy notes, blue carbon (ie. carbon that is captured and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, saltmarshes, mangroves and supratidal forests) presents an organic and sustainable means of capturing and storing carbon, and existing ecosystems are estimated to store nearly 10 million tonnes of the total carbon stock in NSW.

The Strategy is aligned with, and complementary to, NSW’s Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030, and is targeted at achieving priorities 1 (the uptake of emissions reduction technologies) and 4 (NSW Government leading by example) of that Plan. The Strategy is also directed at protection against climactic events, mitigation against species loss, maintaining First Nations connection to Country, and achieving benefits for tourism, recreation and agriculture.


NSW: Revised guidelines released to clarify the assessment large-scale solar energy projects

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has released a revised Large-Scale Solar Energy Guideline aimed at providing greater certainty to the community, industry and regulators in relation to the assessment and approval of large-scale solar energy projects.

The Guideline, which applies to the development of large-scale solar energy projects that are declared as a state significant development, is a revision of the previous 2018 Large-Scale Solar Energy Guideline and now includes advice on a range of assessment matters including visual impacts and agricultural land use. The Guideline is supplemented by a technical document for the assessment of landscape and visual impact.

WA: Guidance for remote mines to increase use of renewable energy

The Energy Industry Development team, which is part of Energy Policy WA, is working with the mining industry and local manufacturers to increase renewable energy uptake and support the growth of local industry.

It is understood that as part of this initiative, the Energy Industry Development team will facilitate understanding of the regulatory and approvals process, grid access and connection discussion, and access to Government funding programs. A key focus for the team is remote mines, which rely heavily on diesel or liquified natural gas for power generation. Reducing reliance on diesel with renewable energy will help in reducing emissions and achieving the WA Government’s commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Energy Policy WA has produced and released the Hybrid Power Purchase Agreement Guide and an accompanying template. The Guide is to help mine sites gain the maximum benefit from the hybrid Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) template, and to gain an understanding of legal and commercial issues they will need to address in a PPA. The hybrid PPA template allows the customer and an Independent Power Producer to bring together generation from carbon energy sources with generation from renewable energy sources.


SA: Independent Planning System Implementation Review announced: have your say

The SA Government is implementing an election promise by announcing that a review of South Australia’s planning system, including the following, will now be commissioned:

  • the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 (SA);
  • the Planning and Design Code (and related instruments);
  • the ePlanning system; and
  • the PlanSA portal.

The aim of the review is to ensure planning decisions encourage a more liveable, competitive and sustainable long-term growth strategy for Greater Adelaide and the regions.

The Planning System Implementation Review will be conducted by an independent expert panel and will take place over a six-month period.

Submissions can be made to the expert panel until 16 December 2022 in the manner prescribed here.


NSW: EOIs open for Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund

As discussed in our Insights last month, the NSW Government established a Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund and Taskforce, aimed at increasing the supply of “in demand” biodiversity credits which are needed to support the State’s projected infrastructure, housing and manufacturing growth.

Since then, opportunities to submit expressions of interest have opened for landholders and potential purchasers alike. With no clear closing date, interested parties are encouraged to express their interest as soon as practicable, as credits purchased by the new Biodiversity Supply Supply Fund will be sold to purchasers on a “first-in basis”.

Environmental protection

NSW: POEO General Regulation comes into effect

We’ve already discussed the draft Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2022 which was the subject of public consultation. Following consideration of more than 1100 submissions from government agencies, industry, environment groups and individuals the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2022 has now been made and commenced on 1 September 2022.

The Regulation, which replaces the 2021 regulation, is for the most part in a similar form to the Draft Regulation, with the Environment Protection Authority’s response to most of the requested amendments to the Draft Regulation being “noted”, “not supported” or “no change needed” for the reasons outlined in the Consultation Report.

SA: State of the Environment Report 2023: have your say

The South Australian Environment Protection Authority has commenced preparations for its State of the Environment Report 2023 (SOER), and is seeking submissions from the public to inform its development.

The SOER, produced every five years pursuant to the Environment Protection Act 1993 (SA), is multi-faceted, covering:

  • the current state of the SA environment;
  • First Nations perspectives on caring for Country;
  • significant trends and condition in relation to environmental assets;
  • key pressures that may cause environmental change;
  • perspectives on the most pressing environmental risks facing SA;
  • policies and programs to protect and improve the environment; and
  • opportunities for the facilitation of environmental improvement.

Public consultation is open until March 2023 and submissions can be made via an online platform.

Special thanks to Sarah Ashley (Brisbane), George Stribling (Sydney) and Kate Wilkes (Perth) for their contribution to this edition.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.