Being out on a limb can be a dangerous place to be, particularly in politics. When federal Liberal politician Sarah Henderson stated loudly and proudly that she supports Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, she certainly went against the grain of some of her party colleagues who have been calling for a massive reduction in the target.
But did she step out on a limb, or was she simply showing a deeper understanding of the policy, and recognising the strong support of voters for clean energy?
The truth is that producing renewable energy from our wind, sun, waves and more just makes sense to people. This is why, whenever someone asks the question in a survey, renewable energy polls its solar panels off – it is generally supported by more than three quarters of the population.
The Renewable Energy Target (RET) has helped deliver more than 20,000 jobs in renewable energy across Australia. Sarah Henderson’s electorate of Corangamite is blessed with an abundance of wind energy resources and includes dozens of small businesses employing hundreds of qualified solar panel installers. And almost a quarter of homes have either solar power or solar hot water, which is well above the Victorian average.
The RET is also driving innovation, something the greater Geelong region needs as it rises to the challenge of major changes in the manufacturing and automotive sector. IXL Solar is a good example of this transformation, with operations in South Australia and Geelong. It used to produce parts for car manufacturing and is now busily manufacturing parts for several huge solar power farms being built in New South Wales. It is a fantastic reminder of how innovative companies can respond to the many changes we are facing.
Of course, benefits such as these do come at a cost and the cost of the RET is about 3 per cent of the average Australian household power bill. That’s not much compared to the 40 per cent of bills that goes towards the poles and wires necessary to deliver the electricity. And the cost of the RET is balanced out by the savings it creates on another party of your bill – the cost of wholesale power.
If we weren’t using renewable energy, we would also have to rely on more gas for our electricity, and gas prices seem to have a nasty habit of going up lately. This is why economic analysis undertaken by ACIL Allen for the Federal Government has found the Renewable Energy Target will actually save consumers money in the long run, as it will help shield us from rising gas prices.
This and four other economic studies this year have led the Australian Industry Group – the nation’s leading business group representing over 60,000 major energy customers – to conclude that scrapping the RET would not save any money on power bills.
With all of this in mind, it is not surprising that Sarah Henderson can tell which way the wind is blowing in her electorate. It’s an electorate that is home to thousands of solar power systems, and a region in much need of alternative economic opportunities.
In supporting the RET she is also continuing a long Liberal tradition. The RET was first introduced back in 2001 by the Howard Government and the Liberals supported its expansion and refinement in 2009 and 2010. It has been a bipartisan policy.
At a time when people are desperately looking for authenticity in their public figures, it’s great to see a politician take the time to look at this issue sensibly and stand up for the courage of their convictions. In doing so, Ms Henderson is not out on a limb. She is joining the vast majority of Australians, the renewable energy businesses and workers in her electorate, and the 144 countries around the world with renewable energy target policies, that are all pushing even harder for a transition to a cleaner, smarter energy system.
Kane Thornton is Acting Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council