Everyone loves a dinosaur: an ancient creature so unlikely and yet one that tells us so much about our planet’s evolution. But do we aspire to be dinosaurs or would we rather be creatures of the future?
Enter our largest energy companies, who are attempting to claw back against every possible policy that supports evolution, rather than embracing a clean energy future.
We can see this in the response by some electricity companies and industry associations to the Renewable Energy Target.
The RET has been a bipartisan policy designed to reduce carbon pollution from the electricity sector and build Australia’s renewable energy industry. The target is working: it has helped triple solar and wind energy since 2009, led to 250 per cent growth in clean energy jobs, and generated some $18 billion in investment.
And the public love it.
Last week Crosby Textor polling found that more than 80 per cent of Australians want to see the current RET arrangements stay in place. The number among Liberal voters is 70 per cent – still an overwhelming majority.
These findings are similar to our public opinion research carried out by JWS Research in May, which showed that 71 per cent of Australians want the RET to ensure renewables make up at least 20 per cent of electricity. Of those, about a third (29 per cent) want a RET above 30 per cent. Only one in 10 wants the RET to achieve precisely 20 per cent renewable electricity, no more, no less, and very few want the scheme reduced or abolished altogether.
While slightly less enthusiastic than ALP voters, Coalition voters still overwhelmingly backed an ambitious RET. Two-thirds want a target of at least 20 per cent, with 52 per cent of them wanting it to be higher.
These numbers are significant, especially since we pointed out to survey respondents that “critics of the scheme say the RET is a subsidy that drives up electricity bills.”
Although the dinosaurs in energy and politics have argued that weakening or doing away with the RET will lower costs, Australians are smarter than that.
Multiple studies, including that done for the government’s own review of the policy, show that cutting the RET would have no noticeable impact on power bills.
Also, fewer people now believe renewable technologies are too costly for consumers, as Crosby Textor found out. No wonder, given that well over a million Australian households now have solar panels.
The dinosaurs’ posturing is understandable, though short-sighted, since they stand to gain as much as $8 billion in extra revenue if the RET is changed, while the rest of us would hurt.
Support for renewable energy has been so resilient that even the more unexpected constituencies back it. For instance, our JWS polling found that three-quarters of the population want state governments to do more to incentivise renewables projects, like wind farms. The sentiment was stronger in regional areas, where wind farms tend to be located, with 79 per cent support – and this was immediately after Joe Hockey described wind farms as “utterly offensive.
With elections forthcoming in Victoria and NSW, our research showed that this support is very strong amongst soft voters. In Victoria, for instance, it’s 62 per cent.
There are signs that some members of the Cabinet and backbench are getting the message: we like dinosaurs, but we have to look ahead, not back. To help them along we’ve launched the final phase of our Stop the Dinosaurs campaign, with Facebook and a regional radio advertising push.
The question is, will the government listen?
Kristina Stefanova is communications director with The Climate Institute