Last week, as the drama of the Craig Thompson affair continued to unfold, our national parliament was reduced to a circus of politicians sprinting around the chamber, and the press gallery struggled to digest each new stunt-filled moment, the 100% Renewable campaign took 30 community representatives to Canberra to talk to our leaders about an issue the public actually cares about – building big solar plants in the sunniest country on earth.
Last Monday, constituents sat down with their local MPs, as well as senior ministers and ministerial advisors, and talked about the widespread support for big solar we found in our big solar poll conducted earlier this year and outlined in the poll report, 12,000 Voices: Australia’s vision for big solar.
One such meeting saw Viktorija McDonnell from Freshwater in Sydney meet with her local MP, Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott and run him through our big solar poll. A short, personal exchange like this allowed us to clarify for him a number of issues around renewables, such as the capacity of solar thermal power plants to store energy and generate electricity after the sun goes down, and to remind him that cheaper power from renewables is one of the best solutions to rising energy bills.
For the record, his responses to the poll were:
Are you aware of operational large-scale solar power projects now being built around the world?
“Yes, in broad terms.”
Do you think we should be building these kinds of projects here in Australia?
“Yes, if it’s economic.” He thought that renewable energy, particularly solar, had a lot of potential in Australia, but only if was economic and didn’t put pressure on power bills.
Do you support government funding for renewables?
“Yes, governments should be helping fund renewables.” He went on to explain that he’s in favour of ‘appropriate, affordable’ support for renewable energy but that once it’s in place ‘we should let the market operate.’ He was also in favour of research grants. He was, however, concerned that ‘baseload power was not technically feasible at this stage’.
Do you have a message for your local MP (ie. yourself)?
“You should be spending more time learning about wave energy down at Manly Beach!” (accompanied by broad chuckle).
In a meeting with Shadow Climate Minister, Greg Hunt we pointed out that the plummeting price of solar PV was rendering much of the Direct Action Plan redundant and we were able to discuss other options to support big solar, such the reverse auction process currently running in the ACT. We also talked to him about our hopes the direct action plan would be revised, though he indicated the party had no plans to do so at this stage.
We congratulated the government, Greens and Independents for their support for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and challenged the Coalition to show their support for renewable energy by getting behind this game-changing fund.
We impressed on all we met the importance of expanding the Renewable Energy Target – for the government, to translate the $10 billion of investment from the CEFC into greater renewable capacity, and for the Coalition, to ensure their banded RET proposal does not turn valuable support for emerging technologies into penalties for existing viable projects.
We reminded government MPs that we were watching the June 30 deadline of the Contracts for Closure program closely. The promised closure of the full 2000MW of dirty coal-fired power is an essential first step in increasing the proportion of renewable power in the grid.
As a result of these meetings, dozens of backbenchers are contacting their senior colleagues on behalf of their constitutents to enquire about the progress of these issues.
Elizabeth Zyla and Kaylene Reynolds travelled all the way from Port Augusta to talk to their MP, Liberal Rowan Ramsey, and a number of senior MPs about the plan, spearheaded by Beyond Zero Emissions, to replace the coal-fired Playford power station with solar thermal and wind. For Elizabeth, a nurse who understands the health impacts of coal, solar thermal is the best way to make Port Augusta a healthier place to live.
It was also a chance to meet up with supporters of solar thermal such as Tony Windsor, possibly the only Australian MP to have visited an operational solar thermal power station, and Malcolm Turnbull. Along with a number of MPs from all parties, Mr Turnbull offered to encourage his colleagues to attend a briefing we will run in Canberra later this year on the falling cost of renewable energy and how renewable energy is essential for helping manage power bills into the future.
This was a day for building pressure in our national capital for action on big solar and renewable energy. Crucially, it was also an opportunity to train 30 community leaders in running effective meetings with their MPs. For us, building this kind of grassroots capacity is central to ensuring that the people’s overwhelming desire for big solar and renewables is heard and acted on in the nation’s parliament.
More stories from the day, including surprising pictures from our meeting with Bob Katter, can be found here.