Chris Floreani, Peter Kupniewski and Nicole Mead outline some of the key developments in the energy, resources and environmental sectors.

Changes to SA mining legislation apply from 1 January 2021

Businesses are reminded that the changes to the Mining Act 1971 (SA), Mining Regulations 2020 (SA), Mines and Works Inspection Act 1920 (SA) and Opal Mining Act 1995 (SA) as announced last year are now in effect.

The amended Mining Act 1971 (SA) seeks to, amongst other matters, increase landowner rights and environmental protections, update lease and licence arrangements, and implement streamlined regulatory measures. The new regulations can be viewed here.

EPBC Act Final Report released

The Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) carried out by Professor Graeme Samuel AC was released late last year.

The report makes 38 recommendations, including topics such as:

  • the implementation of legally enforceable National Environmental Standards that would also be used to assess development proposals, including a requirement to disclose the full emissions of the development;
  • amend the EPBC Act to provide confidence around the accreditation of states and territories for single-touch environmental approvals with rigorous Commonwealth oversight;
  • give accreditation to other agencies such as the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority;
  • creation and implementation of strategic national and regional plans that account for cumulative impacts and past and future key threats.

The government is yet to formally respond to the report.

SA government response to the SA Productivity Commission Extractive Industry Supply Chain Review

The SA Productivity Commission completed its Extractive Industry Supply Chain Review in August 2020. In November of last year, the government released its response to this Review, which outlined the recommendations it supported, and provided a high-level action plan.

The government supports a majority of the recommendations, including in relation to issues such as providing regulatory guidance for industry, strengthening the lead regulator model, improving environmental outcomes, and planning for the closures of mines and quarries. Much of the implementation is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

Future Fuels Funds

The Future Fuels Fund (FFF), a commonwealth initiative under the 20/21 Federal Budget, has been announced. FFF is aimed at addressing barriers faced by new vehicle technologies. The first round of funding will fund charging infrastructure for the battery electric vehicle network (including fast charging stations) and ensure wider coverage.

Further FFF funding rounds will occur later in 2021, and will continue to support projects building charging infrastructure, as well as targeting the transition of business fleets to battery electric vehicles, and opportunities in hydrogen and biofuels.

Texas' rolling blackouts and SA's 2017 blackouts – lessons to learn

Texas recently faced extended rolling blackouts as energy providers struggled to respond to unusually high demand during a spell of extreme cold weather. Renewable energy sources (primarily wind) were again blamed for being unreliable and causing the blackouts. In fact, there are many other factors that have been identified in Texas as contributing to the blackouts, including that all of Texas' main sources of power (wind, nuclear and gas pipelines) were not prepared or designed to continue operating in the cold temperatures.

Texas will need to explore solutions to prevent this happening again, as we see more extreme weather events occurring due to climate change. It raises the question of what steps need to be taken to "future proof" energy sources against extreme weather conditions, and what costs would be associated with doing so.

One of the changes implemented by SA following the 2017 events was the purchase of diesel generators to use as emergency back up. Under a leasing deal, five diesel generators will be leased to Infigen Energy and Nexif Energy, with the companies intending to convert the generators to natural gas to lower the running costs.

SA will be home to first grid scale flow battery

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has recently announced on behalf of the federal government that $5.7 million will be given to Yadlamalka Energy Pty Ltd to facilitate the installation of a utility-scale vanadium flow battery near Hawker.

ARENA says:

"Vanadium flow batteries are a form of heavy-duty stationary energy storage, designed for use in high-utilisation applications such as being coupled with industrial scale solar PV generation for distributed, low-emissions energy projects. Vanadium flow batteries store energy in a non-flammable, liquid electrolyte and do not degrade with cycling like lithium-ion batteries. They can be scaled and located with greater flexibility than pumped hydro energy storage, which may increase the potential applications for this technology."

The project is expected to cost $20.3 million, and will include a 2 MW/ 8 MWh vanadium flow battery with a 6 MW solar PV array. This infrastructure will connect to the National Electricity Market to demonstrate the potential of flow batteries to provide energy and frequency control ancillary services, which will improve the electricity network's stability.

SA Accelerated Discovery Initiative – Round 2

The State Government has announced that the second round for proposals is now open under the Accelerated Discovery Initiative. The Initiative is designed to support collaboration and innovative technologies to generate and test new exploration ideas, and increase new data sets that will accelerate data sharing amongst the exploration sector.

Given the success of round one, the funding available for round two has been increased.

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