If the Tea Party can go green, why can’t Abbott’s Australia?

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Green Tea, anyone? A new branch of America’s Tea Party shows a growing number of US Conservatives ‘get’ renewables – particularly solar – and believe in the energy revolution that will turn old market models on their heads. So where are Australia’s renewable energy conservatives hiding?

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‘Conservative’ and ‘Green’ are not two words that sit easily alongside one another. At least not in Australia, where “centre-right” governments installed federally and (until recently) in most of the states, have made it their business to dismantle climate legislation, undermine the renewable energy industry and champion coal.

And while ultra-conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made some rookie mistakes, as American Review editor Tom Switzer puts it, staring down Australia’s green lobby over a “fanciful” emissions trading scheme, and the carbon tax, and the renewable energy target, is not considered one of them by the party faithful.

But in America – where for right-wing Republicans and far-right Tea Party members, climate change denial is an article of faith – something strange is happening with renewable energy.

In America, solar power has a new champion.

debbie dooleyHer name is Debbie Dooley, and she’s a Capital-C-Conservative. In fact, she’s one of 22 founders of the US Tea Party movement, sits on the Board of Directors of the Tea Party Patriots and is the Georgia Tea Party Patriots state coordinator.

She is also, however, the founder and leader of the Green Tea Coalition – a group initially formed in Dooley’s home state of Georgia to protect consumer access to solar, but which has grown into a “bi-partisan Coalition of Environmentalists and tea party activists seeking common ground on common sense energy solutions for a stronger American economy.”

And this week, Dooley’s Conservative Solar crusade even made it into the venerable New Yorker magazine.

Dooley, it seems, ‘gets’ renewable energy. Not only that, but she believes in the coming energy revolution. And, as she put it herself in August 2013 in an explainer on why she had formed the Green Tea Party, all of this does, or should, appeal to conservative minds.

“The premise is simple: Those who believe in the free market need to reexamine the way our country produces energy. Giant utility monopolies deserve at least some competition, and consumers should have a choice. It’s just that simple, and it’s consistent with the free-market principles that have been a core value of the Tea Party since we began in 2009.”

And she’s had plenty more to say since then.

“The reason I like solar is the average person can’t go out and build a new power plant but the average person can put solar panels on their roof… At some point, we are going to have to look at the structure of the monopoly utilities,” she said in an interview with Utility Dive. “I have a message for Republicans. If you are protecting monopolies, you are violating free market principles.

“For years, conservatives have been brainwashed into believing solar is bad. In the states where I am active, we don’t hesitate to call out those politicians and now a different message is being delivered.” And she tweets stuff you don’t see many Australian conservative politicians tweeting in Australia. dooley tweet So what’s gone wrong in Australia? Why don’t we have any free-market conservatives making the case for solar energy?

According to Matt Grudnoff, senior economist at The Australia Institute, the disconnect is mostly ideological.

“First and most importantly, (Australia’s Conservative politicians) have got it in their heads that renewable energy is a crazy Left idea.

“They’ve dismissed it purely because of who has advocated for it in the past,” Grudnoff told RenewEconomy in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Like Dooley, Grudnoff argues that traditional conservatives should be latching on to renewable energy, because it takes away power from big business.

In fact, there are a lot of “really good reasons” Grudnoff can think of as to why conservatives should like solar, including: a huge boost to industry, more jobs, better economic prospects, and creation of diverse regional jobs.

But the big one for “free market thinkers” is that “Rather than having a big utility company that has massive control over your energy, you install solar on your roof and take the power back.”

But Conservatives in Australia, he says, are far more wedded to big business than their US counterparts.

“Renewable energy like solar threatens big business.  And while this is seen as a bonus in America, in Australia it is seen as a negative,” Grudnoff said.

“In Australia, lobbyists for fossil fuel generators – the big utilities – have done a very good job,” he adds. “They have turned the debate into an ideological one, wherein renewable energy is … just a green agenda to get coal off the map; so we’ll ignore the evidence and just focus on the fact that Australia is known for digging things out of the ground and sending it overseas.”

Of course, “there are parliamentarians in Canberra on the Liberal side who completely understand renewable energy and think it’s a part of the future,” Grudnoff says. “But speaking up now is not a great thing to do.”

rsz_10865876_10153130182301579_4565051610725786686_oChief among those Australian Conservatives who understand renewables would be Malcolm Turnbull. And although he’s not exactly speaking up about his progressive views on energy, he did give them an airing on Facebook recently.

“Batteries have the potential to revolutionise the energy market, reducing peaking power requirements, optimising grid utilisation of renewables and in some cases enabling consumers to go off the grid altogether,” Turnbull wrote in January after a tour and testdrive at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California.

“The excitement of technology in the Bay Area is exhilarating…..but not quite as palpable as the jolt you feel when you hit the accelerator!”

It’s a fact, says Grudnoff, that “if Malcolm Turnbull was PM now instead of Tony Abbott, we’d be having a very different discussion on the RET right now.”

But he’s not, and with Abbott coming out of the recent leadership spill attempt more resolutely reactionary than ever, perhaps he never will be.

Green Tea, Malcolm?

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17 Comments
  1. Marg1 4 years ago

    So sad that we have such a pack of backward, anti-science numpties in power right now.

  2. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    Now i can understand that the American idea of ‘conservative’ might well include superlatives like ‘progressive’ or ‘free market’ maybe even ‘socially engineered’. I’m warming to the possibility that conservative puts control back into the hands of the little guy, and the public use of public assets like reticulation grids to buy and sell energy as an individual household or business.So i’m glad that ‘Green Tea’ and ‘conservative’ go together, but as for ‘conservative’ and ‘ideological knob’ … aussies will have to work on it.

    • JFSmith99 4 years ago

      So, even Tea Partiers in the US are starting to get behind action on global warming and get behind renewable energy.

      And as we’ve seen, David Cameron and the British Tories are, if nothing else, strongly supportive of action on global warming and renewable energy.

      But yet, as we also see, the Liberal Party still aren’t. The ALP, otherwise known as Another Liberal Party, still aren’t.

      Really something, for both these parties to be even worse than the ultra-right elsewhere in the world on this.

      • wideEyedPupil 4 years ago

        Hang on where is the evidence Tea Party want action on Climate, they like solarPV because it provides energy independence, see it’s that independence and fear of the state and centralised anything.

        • JFSmith99 4 years ago

          That’s a good point WEP. Yeah, possible it’s just an extension of their own ideology, and not anything to do with awareness of the environmental consequences we’re facing.

          But however they arrive at this position, doesn’t matter too much, as long as it means policy action in the direction we need on this issue.

      • Raahul Kumar 4 years ago

        Canada and Stephen Harper are the same as Australia though.

        • JFSmith99 4 years ago

          Yeah, I should have mentioned Canada as being an exception on that score, shouldn’t I.

          • Raahul Kumar 4 years ago

            Realistically, I expect Abbott and Stephen Harper to be removed as PM before changing. But Abbott’s grip on power is insubstantial, so that may yet happen.

            However, change is already happening. The world’s biggest coal importers are building lots of nuclear and renewables.

            It’s best not to go down with a sinking ship.

          • JFSmith99 4 years ago

            I don’t have any expectation of a change in government leading to a real change in policy in Australia. But at least change in energy policy internationally might bring enough economic pressure to force a change on emissions policy and support for renewables.

          • Raahul Kumar 4 years ago

            In Queensland, the new Labour Government has stated they will support 50% Solar. It is only the Liberal Government that is to strongly pro coal.

            Even other conservative governments are not that much in favour of coal, so definitely the Australian Liberal Party is an outlier.

            Even minus international pressure, Labour winning power in state governments is enough to bring in 50% renewables. The Federal government is not needed to make action happen anyway!

  3. phred01 4 years ago

    Toxic dictator owes favours for the financial support given by dirty coal & coal burning generators. Once battery storage become cheap & viable electricity customers will go off grid in droves. Just to be connected to the grid it’s costing 486$ /yr

  4. Rob 4 years ago

    How did this bunch of nincompoops get elected? I blame the media!

    • Ron Horgan 4 years ago

      Told lies

  5. wideEyedPupil 4 years ago

    Talking about founding members of the Tea Party should be qualified with a statement about it being hatched in the lair of the Koch Brothers to recruit people very not much like themselves to far-right ideological causes.

  6. Greg Smith 4 years ago

    I live half the year in the USA and the other half in WA. At a shopping centre that I own in the USA I devised a project to install two PV parking canopies in the parking lot whose power would be used to power EV charging stations, power for the shopping centre, with surplus fed back into the grid. The local city government turned it down twice at the planning commission level, and I appealed to the board of aldermen (shire council). Guess what – I had five natural allies, all tea party members, and so needed to get two more votes for the project to pass. I was able to get four more votes, so it passed. The delay was two years.

    The explanation for the refusal (twice) was variously that it was too strange, or too new, or not needed, or whatever. The planning commission rejection was unanimous – twice!

    In any event, it finally passed, is built, and enabled me to finish in second place in the Tennessee Governor’s enviornmental and sustainability contest.

    So the green tea movement shouldn’t surprise anyone. They want Government to butt out of matters such as this!

  7. Raahul Kumar 4 years ago

    I think it’s a good thing that Turnbull is not in charge of the Liberal Party, because he might put them over the line. No matter what, a conservative government is a disaster for other reasons.

    The Libs are likely to lose under Abbott, and that’s great news. They could win under Turnbull, and that’s horrific news. The Labour Government governing reliant on Green support is the ideal scenario, and odds look great to make that dream happen.

    I prefer the current Conservative viewpoint, which is out of step with the Aussie bloke in the bar.

  8. F2 Design 4 years ago

    This understanding has been part of our thinking for some time, as evidenced by this article published in the May 2014 edition of the BDAV News:
    http://www.f2design.com.au/v3custom/bdavnewsmay2014_2v2.pdf

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