It was hardly surprising that former prime minister John Howard was having a cheap shot at climate and clean energy policies last week, telling an audience in Perth about the “scandalous” clean energy policies in Australia and why the country should never have gone beyond his target of just 2 per cent renewable energy.
“The former prime minister said the RET was 2 per cent when he left office in 2007 and should have remained at that level,” The Australian quoted Howard as saying. Little wonder really, given the role that Howard and his then energy minister, and now fossil fuel lobbyist Ian Macfarlane, did in ending the then MRET.
Just as shocking, however, was the response from current energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg who, not for the first time in the past week or so, has suffered from selective amnesia about the country’s climate and clean energy policies, and the Coalition’s role.
“How did Australia find itself in a position of rising prices and a weakening, less stable system?” Frydenberg asks with a rhetorical flourish in an opinion piece in Monday’s edition of The Australian, titled Recklessness fed energy crisis.
The answer, most would argue, is the Coalition’s deliberate attack on climate and energy policies once its right wing took control of the party – the removal of the carbon price, the attempts to scrap and then cut the new renewable energy target – introduced with bipartisan support and its assault on every other climate and clean energy institution.
Frydenberg, who last week tried to reframe the Paris climate deal by suggesting Australia should not aim for anything more than its current 26-28 per cent emissions reduction target, and seeing no need to reach zero emissions before the second half of the century, wrote in his piece:
“Labor came into office and recklessly extended the RET to 45,000 gigawatt hours …”
Recklessly extended? It was done with the full and enthusiastic support of the Coalition. And just out of interest, we dived back into Hansard to see exactly what the Coalition said about it at the time – remembering that the MRET sought “at least” 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020, and had a fixed target of 45,000GWh.
This is what the then environment spokesman Greg Hunt said, as late as June 17, 2013:
“We support the target, we created the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, which became the Renewable Energy Target. We gave bipartisan support to its creation,” before trailing off and complaining about the excess solar credits which were dealt with when the small-scale target was spun out and the LRET became 41,000GWh.
And here is what was said when the 45,000GWh was originally debated in parliament in August, 2009, by Coalition MPs.
Alex Hawke – (Mitchell, NSW):
“The primary aim of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 is to set in place a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. I think that is a wonderful thing.”
Bob Baldwin – (Paterson, NSW):
“This legislation progressively increases 9,500-gigawatt-hour annual mandatory renewable energy targets to 45,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, which I support.”
Peter Lindsay – (Herbert, Qld):
“The primary bill that we are discussing this afternoon sets in place a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. The majority of the parliament supports this and certainly the Coalition support it, and strongly support it. We want to see this happen.”
Judith Moylan – (Pearce, W.A.):
“The opposition is supportive of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill. I have heard the shadow minister for the environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt, say on many occasions that Australia can become a solar nation and, as I mentioned, there are other renewable sources of energy that Australia is very rich in. This is important legislation. Probably rarely have we debated such important legislation in this House.
Luke Simpkins – (Cowan, W.A.):
“The legislation maps out the progressive increase in the mandatory renewable energy target from 9,500 gigawatt hours to the 45,000 gigawatt hours I mentioned before. The bottom line is that electricity wholesalers will have to ensure they have 20 per cent of their energy produced by renewable sources. They can achieve that by obtaining electricity produced by solar, wind, geothermal or other options. If they cannot then they have to buy RECs. If they still cannot reach the target then they have to pay the shortfall charge of $65 per megawatt-hour. That is what this legislation is meant to do and we offer our support for it, subject to some amendments that are being negotiated at this time. It is certainly the coalition’s position to pursue a clean energy economy and with no equivocation we support the 20 per cent target.
Rowan Ramsey – (Grey, S.A.)
“In closing, I say renewable energies offer great opportunities for Australia and the world, and more will have to be done to support these fledgling industries. But the renewable energy target is a good piece of legislation, and I offer it my support.”
Sharman Stone – (Murray, Vic):
“So I repeat: we, the coalition in government, understood renewables. We have grown up with them. We have grown up with windmills and with gravity fed irrigation systems that produce the food of the world and can keep on doing that. We know what to do. We are deeply concerned that in trying to couple this bill with the CPRS, political games are being played. But we do support an MRET. We particularly strongly support the concept of a 20 per cent renewable energy target. We will therefore continue to do our best to get an outcome which helps save this country and which ultimately contributes to the global response to reducing carbon emissions. We can do it if we work together. We just ask that you take this problem seriously, not as a political game.”
Even the climate science denying, nuclear enthusiast Dennis Jensen supported it.
Of course, when the Abbott government got into power, the political games began. The Coalition feigned support of the 20 per cent target, then reframed that to suggest they supported 20 per cent and not 41,000GWh. Eventually, they wore Labor and the industry down and got a change to 33,000GWh.
At least Frydenberg now agrees that the “2020 target is well on track to be met” – contrary to the right-wing commentary of recent years and the best efforts of the fossil fuel lobby.
The question, now, is where it goes from here. The Coalition has been in power for four years and can hardly put the blame on previous legislation when it supported it so strongly and it had an opportunity to rewrite the rules when it changed the LRET.
Australia is still at barely 15-16 per cent renewables, and more than half of this is hydro. As the CSIRO and Energy Networks Australia have suggested, anything less than 30-50 per cent wind and solar penetration can be considered “trivial”.
South Australia has reached those levels, but while more careful management is required than what has been shown to date, the nature of renewable energy – its intermittency – has not been shown to be responsible for any of the blackouts. Bad decisions, and an out-dated grid may well have done.
The opportunity is there to embrace these new technologies and move forward to the zero emissions grid that the CSIRO, the network owners, the bigger generators and the market operator accept is achievable, and desirable, because in the long run it will be cheaper and more reliable, as well as cleaner and smarter.
But there are few signs yet that the Coalition has seized the message. Unless, of course, such trash-talking of their own policy decisions is solely designed to placate, once again, the right wing rump of this government.
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