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Renewable Energy Pioneer returns to Bond for Business Leaders Forum

Last night (Monday, February 5) alumnus Kenny Habul, CEO of SunEnergy1, the fastest growing solar energy company in the US, return to Bond University on the Gold Coast to talk about his career and the state of play in the renewable energy sector in the US and Australia.

Below are some of the highlights of his address to the Bond Business Leaders Forum…

THE Australian renewable energy pioneer who is building the world’s largest solar plant says he will meet with the Prime Minister about the “ridiculous” price of power.

SunEnergy1 CEO Kenny Habul says the solar plants his company will build in the US this year will produce power more cheaply than either traditional coal or natural gas plants.

The former Gold Coaster gave a rare public address at his alma mater Bond University last night. Fresh from placing second at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race on Sunday, this is what Mr Habul had to say:

On the 'ridiculous' price of power in Australia:

“The current Australian Prime Minister has asked me to meet with him in a couple of weeks and just sort of talk about the general situation here in Australia and I’m not an expert at it but I know the cost of power is astronomically high. For a country that has a very high standard of living, stable economic situation and tremendous opportunities, it makes no sense at all for the price of power to be more than a banana republic. So I’m looking forward to speaking to the Prime Minister and hopefully understand a bit better why, particularly in Queensland, the rates are ridiculous. There’s Third World countries that pay less for their power than Queensland. It makes no sense.

On the scale of his business:

“We have the largest genuine development pipeline of solar in the world at 10,000 megaWatts.”

“This year is a very exciting one for us. We are starting to build the largest solar system in the world at 945 megaWatts on 7000 acres.”

“Our average deal size is $200 million.”

"We are the largest purchaser of Caterpillar tracked machines in the world five years in a row."

On coal:

“Our generation is the end of traditional energy. Coal in itself is finished. They’re closing coal plants everywhere. Natural gas was the next best solution. Most coal plants in the US have been shut down and switched to natural gas. Solar is now cheaper than natural gas. And the latest advancements in solar cell technology put us at twice the output of the current panel in the next four years and at one-tenth of the cost.”

“There is enough sunlight that hits the earth in one day tp power the earth for a year. And we dig coal and we burn it. It’s fundamentally wrong.”

On the future:

“Every home will have solar. Every home will have batteries. The traditional concept of centralised generation -- 2000 megaWatt coal plant, transmission lines, distributions lines -- all that will go away. Maybe what happen in the end is the utilities will just power the main infrastructure in towns and they won’t power businesses and they won’t power homes.”

On electric vehicles:

“Through my racing contacts I’ve been fortunate enough to know the CEO of Mercedes-Benz, the CEO of AMG. Every car they make is electric in five years. Everything is moving to batteries. Semi-trailers, trains.”

On doing business in the age of Trump:

“The oil and gas movement is so powerful. There are so many stakeholders in coal mines and natural gas production that you soon realise it is not all about what’s best for the environment. It’s not really a matter of in my opinion that Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. I don’t believe that. I think they know that (climate change is real). But their motivations are elsewhere. We’ve had to learn to work with that. Just a week or two ago Trump put a 30 per cent tariff on solar panels. We buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth at a time. That’s going to hurt us. We’re going to continue but it’s going to make our price go up and it’s going to make it more difficult to us. What we’re dealing with now in the US is tremendous power from the coal movement. They know this is the end and they’ve said, “We want four more years. Just give us four more years of sales and the whole thing can go to hell.’’

On why he doesn't lobby:

“At the end of the day the leaders in DC will do what they want and it’s our job to find a way to be successful within that framework. And I’d rather put my energy into finding a way to be successful within the current rules than me go to DC to try to fight them.”

On why he hires ex-special forces:

“We realised we needed to up our game. We bought our first helicopter. We got the best pilots, we recruited all special forces and SEAL teams, and we ran our own helicopters, two of them, through the night and basically mapped the transmission lines on the East Coast (of the US to determine the best locations for solar plants). Because you can’t just buy a map, they don’t tell you where they are, it’s a national security threat. You can’t just call up a utility and say where are your transmission lines, mate? They’ll tell you to eff off.”

On his motor-racing career:

“I grew up loving motor-racing and loving (Peter) Brock and wanting to do that and I was fortunate to have a little bit of talent. It was difficult to me because if you like tennis you buy a tennis racquet and go and practice. If you love motor-racing you need millions of dollars and it’s just a difficult, difficult sport for kids. Halfway through my degree I took a couple of semesters off, I moved to Melbourne and I worked with Peter Brock in ‘92 and that was a great experience for me. He was good to me and taught me a lot and was here (at Bond University) when I graduated.”

“I chose that (business) instead of motor-racing but I’m fortunate now to have one of the largest private companies in the world and I try to enjoy myself and go back to motor-racing. I miss it. I’m pretty competitive for my age.”

On his dream car:

“In 1997 I was there (Bathurst) and Brock won. The two Ford Sierras got disqualified and that VL Commodore became the winner, No. 10. And I’m lucky enough to have that car in my museum. That was a dream for me because I was there. My job was to clean the wheels.”

On his time at Bond University:

(He graduated with a law degree in 1994)

“I was a bit of a troublemaker, but I’m very glad to be here, it’s a very beautiful campus and I’m amazed at how much it’s grown.”

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