The Australian state of Queensland has pledged to establish an AUD$500m ($364m) fund for renewable energy development and up to 16GW of generation.

The fund comes as part of the state’s recovery from the initial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Queensland Government treasurer Cameron Dick announced AUD1bn ($730m) of funding, of which half would go toward assisting the renewable energy industry.

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He said: “In the current environment, with Queensland’s strong balance sheet, there are investment opportunities that represent both excellent value for the taxpayer and more jobs.

“That’s why we will invest AUD$500m in a renewable energy fund that will mean our state-owned energy corporations can increase public ownership of commercial renewable projects and supporting infrastructure. By putting our money on the table, we can get more projects through the vital investment decision phase, to get construction underway as soon as possible.”

The state’s energy department said all publicly-owned energy companies could apply for the money. This would include companies such as generation company CS Energy, distributors Powerlink and Energex, or retailer Ergon Energy.

The state has set a target of generating 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, the equivalent of 5.5GW. The Brisbane Times recently reported that renewable energy advocates have predicted the state would not achieve this target.

“Grid congestion is the biggest underlying challenge”

Research and consulting business Green Energy Markets renewable energy economist Tristan Edis told the paper: “While substantial progress has been made and the state is on progress to have more than one-third of its energy provided by renewables by 2030, there is still a substantial gap to get to 50% by 2030.”

Trade association Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said: “Grid congestion is the biggest underlying challenge facing new investment in large-scale renewable energy in Queensland. Accelerating construction and expansion of the transmission network will unlock new private sector investment in large-scale renewable energy.”

In August, the state outlined its plans for three renewable energy zones. It says these have the potential to deliver up to 16GW of renewable energy generation, as well as creating ‘thousands’ of new jobs. The zones will work with local industry, including hydrogen production, biofuels, and mineral extraction in these areas to explore energy generation and distribution opportunities.

Australia as a whole continues to invest heavily in mineral and fossil fuel extraction. While increasing its renewable investments, the Queensland Government has consented to the construction of multiple new mining hubs this year. Coal is Australia’s largest export and the source of more than 80% of the country’s power.

Recently, GlobalData power analyst Somik Das analyst predicted that Australia would see the world’s fastest energy transition. The country has a large pipeline of renewable generation projects, set to generate 102GW when completed. Das said: “The government has put the final nail in the coffin for coal-fired power plants, having no plans to continue coal and gas generators beyond the planned retirement dates.”

Also in August, the Queensland Government announced the start of construction on the 162MW Columboola Solar Farm.