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Future COVID-19 restrictions must recognise essential nature of renewable energy

As an essential service, the energy industry is taking the issue of the health and safety of workers and the public with the utmost seriousness.

We recognise the immense risks that COVID-19 poses to the health of Australians and to the economy, and like other sectors, the clean energy industry has been working assiduously over recent weeks to prepare for the impacts of COVID-19. The safety of our workforce is paramount, and a wide variety of extensive measures have been taken and will continue to be put in place to identify, mitigate and minimise health risks to our workforce and to the public.

The clean energy sector provides an essential service

It is vitally important that the energy industry can continue maintaining, installing and connecting power generation assets. Energy provision is very clearly an essential service, and this includes the hundreds of renewable energy projects under construction and in operation across Australia as well as the millions of rooftop solar and household battery systems that are all essential to the operation of the Australian electricity system. Clean energy, which now accounts for over 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity, is both an essential service and a critical part of the economy, particularly in regional and rural areas of the country. It is vital that these projects and systems can continue to operate flexibly and safely during this crisis.

We therefore believe it is critical that any future restrictions placed on ‘non-essential’ business activity in response to COVID-19 clearly recognises the essential nature of the construction/installation, operation and maintenance of renewable energy and energy storage, as well as energy transmission and distribution.

In doing so, the clean energy industry recognises the duty of care that we have to our workers and the community. The industry is fully committed to following government health advice to protect its people as they carry out their work and to limit any risk to the communities in which they operate.

Movement of specialised workers and equipment is critical for maintaining plant

To enable us to maintain a reliable and secure electricity system at this time, it is also vital that industry can move specialised workers and equipment between regions and jurisdictions to service plant and systems as required. Unlike thermal generation plant, renewable energy generation plant does not typically locate specialist staff and spare parts on site 24/7, and we will require flexibility to respond to equipment failures or undertake maintenance during this time.

Some of our members have begun to explore informal measures that the industry might be able to take to pool resources in certain locations to enable rapid-response, business continuity and the minimisation of travel. However, we expect that such initiatives, at best, will allow us to reduce travel requirements, rather than eliminate them entirely. A solution will be required to enable essential service personnel and equipment to move lawfully and efficiently between jurisdictions at short notice.

Finally, we recognise that the National Cabinet will need to constantly review and update its advice to Australian businesses and communities over coming days and weeks as to the classification of essential and non-essential services. It will be immensely helpful to the energy industry, who are closely monitoring this advice, for information to be as detailed, clear and consistent (across jurisdictions) as possible, to maximise our ability as an industry to ensure that we can continue to comply with government advice and guidelines at all times.