Energy is a vital part of our everyday lives. It keeps us warm and cool; allows us to produce and transport ourselves and the goods and services we buy and sell; it provides the power required to run hospitals, schools and businesses; and the means through which we are able to communicate, socialise and learn.
For Western Australia, the energy sector has played a vital role in building the economy through the provision of essential infrastructure and to a lesser extent, as a sector in and of itself, contributing around $6.2 billion to the states output and employing more than 20,000 people. In recent times, population expansion and resource-led economic growth along with extensive deregulation and regional development as well as major industrial incidents have transformed the state’s electricity sector, from a single supplier to a structured monitored market with a number of industry players. Challenges lie ahead for the energy sector with affordability a key concern for many West Australians.
Our findings show that high energy costs impose a significant burden for many households, especially those on low incomes, with single parents, and older age single men and women more likely to be in energy poverty than other households. And there is evidence that some families are compromising on other essentials to meet rising energy costs, including food and healthcare. Accessible, secure and affordable energy is a necessary component of any wellfunctioning economy. And the imperative to move to a greener source is a position that many citizens, communities and governments are taking.
Western Australia is lagging behind on this front, with no clear renewable energy plan or target, despite others states taking these steps. Investment in large-scale renewable projects are meagre in comparison to other states and territories, with most of the direct action towards reducing WA’s carbon footprint stemming from household demand and the desire to minimise electricity costs. Collectively, households are soon to become the biggest electricity provider in the state, holding more than 2,000MW of combined capacity. But the intermittent nature of Solar PV and the socio-economic gradient around accessibility, means that it will not be a complete solution to affordability and action towards ‘greening’ the state. What is clear from this report is that the energy sector is changing rapidly globally and nationally; and that Western Australia needs a plan to navigate its way through these changes and towards a sustainable and affordable energy future. The inevitable progress towards renewable energy sources must be incorporated in future planning, so that the state is not left behind and future economic growth compromised.