The fate of Australia’s renewable energy target – and the wind industry in particular – is once again in the balance, after Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised anti-wind cross-bench Senators that he would take action to restrict or monitor wind farms.
Legislation cutting the RET to 33,000GWh from 41,000GWh had been expected to pass the Senate this week, finally giving the industry some certainty to invest, albeit in a much reduced target.
But Abbott’s refusal to cut a deal with Labor over the controversial issue of native wood waste has seen him turn instead – as predicted two days ago – to the senators who have already decided – like Abbott – that wind farms are ugly, dangerous to health, not very effective, and possibly constitute an act of treason.
Abbott – whose opinions on wind farms have been shaped by advisors who do not accept the science of climate change and his one encounter with a single turbine on Rottnest Island – met with Senator David Leyonhjelm (below) and other cross-benchers this week.
He told the environment minister Greg Hunt – who told a radio station this week that “I know what you mean” when told that a single turbine in his electorate was “ugly” – to draft a letter to the cross benchers, outlining his commitments to get tough on wind farms.
The letter, according the The Guardian, includes a promise to appoint a wind-farm “commissioner” to monitor and act on complaints, an “independent” scientific committee (perhaps like the Warburton RET review) to liase with the Senate inquiry, and an undertaking to act on the Senate inquiry’s recommendations.
Abbott has also promised, as reported in RenewEconomy last week, to ask the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, to direct funding to encourage the construction of more large scale solar farms.
In effect, it is a commitment from a government committed to the removal of red and green tape to add more red and green tape to the operation and development of wind farms in Australia, a commitment to ask an institution it wants to abolish to support big solar, and to implement the recommendations of an inquiry into wind farms that has already made up its mind about the impact of wind farms.
It seems to be the case of the mad right wagging the tail of the ultra conservative dog on energy policies. Senators Madigan, Lambie and Leyonhjelm all hold controversial views about climate science and wind farms – all being advised by noted long-term anti-wind activists.
Leyonjhelm, the self-styled prince of small government, wants a new government department to monitor wind farms; Madigan wants new legislation that would effectively stop wind farm workers working at wind farms. And Lambie’s proposal that anyone thinking that renewable energy can help the planet should be charged with treason could mean that one-quarter of Australia’s population runs the risk of being locked in prison, or sent in a boat to Bali and beyond.
To push their argument, the cross-bench Senators were due to release a rushed interim report of their Senate inquiry into wind farms later on Thursday – although most of them have said they have seen quite enough evidence to confirm their prejudices, including the wind turbine-challenged Sudoku player and the dog that can’t jump.
The only cross bench Senators making any sense in the debate have been Glenn Lazarus and Ricky Muir. Like the Greens, they noted there was no justification in cutting the RET. Muir pointed to the benefits for regional economies, and Lazarus pushed through an amendment to reserve a significant amount for large-scale solar.
All this will matter little in a government so utterly obsessed with removing any legacy of Greens policy – leaving aside the fact that it was the Howard government that introduced a renewables target in the first place – that it will not listen to rhyme nor reason.
It would be funny if it weren’t so terrifying. International investors, already frustrated by nearly two years of policy uncertainty, remain appalled. The Abbott government’s policies remain a running joke at international conferences.
At least households can take matters into their own hands. Rooftop solar capacity is now tipped to overtake that of coal-fired generation within the next decade, and in South Australia rooftop solar is expected to provide 100% of grid demand within a decade.
So, sanity might not prevail, but solar will. Here’s hoping that Abbott’s morning bike rides don’t take him past any solar panels.