State and federal political leaders today lined up to describe the attack on renewable energy following the recent high price events in South Australia and elsewhere in Australia as “fatuous, misleading and ideological.”
Mark Butler, Labor’s climate change and energy spokesman, said the issue about price surges in South Australia had been exploited by vested interests, some in the media and some in the Coalition.
“There has been downright misinformation about South Australia,” Butler told the Clean Energy Summit in Sydney. “We saw this in November when the blackout blamed on wind power.
“This is being pushed by people who have nothing but an ideological bent against renewable energy, and it must be challenged.” Butler lives in South Australia.
Butler said there was a clear link between rises in gas prices and rises in wholesale electricity. When gas prices were low, South Australia had cheaper wholesale electricity than Queensland or Tasmania, despite its high penetration of wind and solar, which now accounts for around 45 per cent of local electricity production.
“To put the blame on this (spike in electricity prices) on renewable energy is fatuous at best, downright misleading at worst,” Butler said.
His comments were echoed by ACT climate change and energy minister Simon Corbell, who said the price spikes were caused by the failure of market regulators to plan for the emergence of renewable energy.
He rejected a push by the Energy Supply Council and large generators, such as AGL Energy, to wind back state-based targets, which are generally much more ambitious and longer lasting than the federal target, which was cut back last year and effectively expires in 2020.
“This will be an opportunity for the state and territories to stand together and reject assertions that there should not be state based targets,” Corbell said.
Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the renewable energy industry had become a bigger target because of its growth.
“That’s the price we pay for our success … but it is important that the public debate is based on fact, not fiction.”
Thornton said it was clear that unsubsidised renewable energy was the lowest-cost of new energy in the country, but the problem the industry faced was that it was competing against fossil fuel generation built a long time ago, with the benefit of taxpayer funds, and regulations that had not moved into the 21st century.
“People underesstimate renewable energy – they underestimate the rate of deployments, and the falls in the cost of the technology,” he said.
Butler said the media coverage would have an impact on investment, and said he was also very concerned about calls by independent Senator Nick Xenophon to reopen a Senate inquiry into wind energy.
“When someone prefaces everything they say with ‘I’m not against wind power, but’ … you know something is wrong here,” he said.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters also expressed concerns about the attitude of Xenophon, whose party may have three seats in the Senate and be influential, along with the re-emerging Hanson One Nation Party.
“Xenophon’s opposition to wind energy is well known. He will have three representatives in the Senate, and the Liberal Democrats will have one, maybe two, and they were the onse that supported the appointment of a wind farm commissioner to add red tape to the industry.
Waters said that not only was the make up of the Senate “depressing”, it was “sobering” that mainstream press have been so willing to pile on and falsely blame wind for the electricity price surge.
“Blaming the price rise on renewables is utterly false … we have a war on renewables from this federal government. “
Waters also said the Greens would seek to pass legislation preventing the big “gentailers” from passing on the costs of penalty prices to consumers if they don’t meet their renewable energy targets.