The politics over renewable energy get bleaker by the moment. As the election date gets closer and a change of government grows more likely, the voices of the pro-coal and anti-renewable interests are becoming more strident and, it would seem, finding larger cracks in the Coalition’s supposed “bipartisan” support for renewable energy.
On Thursday, Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey refused to support the ongoing funding of renewable energy developments, saying the electorate would have to “wait and see” its policies on support measures for wind and solar power.
In an interview with the anti-wind and anti-carbon tax campaigner Alan Jones, which you can listen to here, Hockey was put on the spot several times about ongoing support for renewables, but would not be drawn on the extent of that support because he had “only just seen the budget papers.”
“Why are you subsidising these people,” Jones asked. To which Hockey replied:
“Alan, I need to consult with my colleagues about the state of the budget.”
Later, asked again why the government would “cover the cost” of wind and solar power, Hockey said: “Well, please wait and see on that Alan.”
Hockey may simply have been ducking the question, but the exchange was symptomatic of the sort of pressure the Coalition is under – both from within its own ranks in state and federal levels, and from outside business interests – over support for renewables.
There is increasing concern in the industry that the Opposition will pave way for the Renewable Energy Target to be diluted, under pressure from state governments, utilities and generators worried about sliding profits from their coal and gas generators, and noisy anti-renewable lobbies promoted by the likes of Jones.
This was more or less confirmed by EnergyAustralia this week, which said that it would “wait and see” the result of the election and the decisions taken afterwards. Renewable energy developers says commercial financing support for large scale renewables has dried up pending the result of the election, because no new power purchase agreements are being signed.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott reaffirmed in his budget reply on Thursday night that the carbon tax will be repealed, and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corp, will be dissolved. The fate of both will be decided by the make-up of the Senate.
The Coalition is in favour of yet another review of the RET, and has expressed sympathy for the argument of utilities that the target should be diluted because of falling demand.
The Climate Change Authority last year rejected those arguments when it said the fixed target of 41,000GWh should be retained, adding that there was a need for investment certainty, and having more than 20 per cent renewables was a good thing – seeing as that is where the country is inevitably headed in any case. Abbott has promised to dissolve the CCA as well.
Abbott’s Coalition is littered with anti-wind members, many of whom are apparently going to speak against wind farms at a rally planned for Canberra on June 18.
Organisers of the rally anticipate a repeat of the notorious anti-carbon tax rally last year. Jones, who continues to rail against the global warming “hoax” and the “demonisation” of coal-fired generation, and is celebrating the recent election success of the anti-renewables UKIP in Britain, will, of course, be MC of the new rally, as he was at the anti-carbon tax rally.
The organisers of the rally claim Coalition politicians such as Craig Kelly, Chris Back and Alby Shultz have already agreed to speak, and others are being sought. Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon, who may hold the balance of power in the Senate and who would be tempted to use wind energy as a bargaining tool, are also said to be confirmed speakers, along with various private anti-wind campaigners, and Alan Moran of the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.
The views of Moran, and other conservatives, were revealed in this report “Australia’s energy future: The scary vision of the right” from a debate at the Clean Energy Week in Sydney last July.
Note: Jones complains about the “demonisation” of coal, and the Australian mining magnates he supports insist on pushing ahead with massive coal mines in Queensland. But it seems the biggest problem the industry faces is a lack of demand. We’ve noted this before, but this week, this was reinforced by reports from China that imported coal is sitting unwanted and clogging up the country’s biggest ports.
Deutsche Bank energy analysts said this was due to “weak coal demand all over China” which had been apparent since late last year. Indeed, half the coal companies in one region of Mongolia had ceased production of thermal coal because of falling prices, and most small coal mines in Shanxi Province had also closed, Deutsche Bank reported.