The campaign to thrust the solar industry into the electoral limelight appears to have claimed its first major success after the Palmer United Party declared its support for the renewable energy target to remain as is.
The re-run of the Senate count in West Australia is seen as crucial for the balance of power in the Senate, particularly over issues such as the renewable energy target, the carbon price, and the future of organizations such as the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority.
For this reason, the Australian Solar Council launched a campaign to make solar – and the RET in general – a campaign issue, putting pressure on all parties to declare support for the RET as is – a 41,000GWh target by 2020, and leaving the small scale component untouched.
On Tuesday, Palmer United Party (PUP) Senate candidate Dio Wang came out in support of the RET. In a press statement, Wang said that the RET, “should remain as it is.”
“It worries me when the government says everything is on the table in reviewing the RET,” said Wang. The PUP candidate said that the RET, “was the right scheme for maintaining and improving Australia’s environment.”
His comments were later endorsed by Clive Palmer, who had previously made little comment about renewables.
Dio Wang’s position poses a significant threat to the Abbott government’s ability to scarp or dilute the RET, which mandates 41,000 GWh of renewable energy capacity to be developed by 2020, as any legislation to reduce the RET would have to be passed by both houses of Parliament.
Even when the new Senate forms in July, the Federal Government will not have an absolute majority and with two PUP senator taking their seats, along with Motoring Enthusiast party’s Ricky Muir – with whom PUP share a voting alliance – passing RET changes looks an increasingly difficult task.
This does, however, assume that all PUP candidates follow through on support for the RET. Clive Palmer himself has plans to scrap the carbon tax and has issued campaign material saying that PUP was the only party West Australian’s could rely on to scrap the mining and carbon taxes.
Further complicating the matter for Abbott are signs are that Labor will retain its second WA Senate seat this time around, with the Liberals retaining its three with the final being fought out between the Greens’ Scott Ludlam and PUP.
With both the WA PUP candidate and the Greens in support of the current RET, it appears likely that the WA result will deliver three senators in favour of changes to the RET and three against.
ABC election analyst Antony Green told The West Australian newspaper that the preference flows indicate that the 3 Liberal, 2 Labor, Green or PUP is the likely result of the WA Senate rerun.
“The last spot will come down to Ludlam, Palmer United or one of the micro-parties,” said Green. Of the micro-parties Green said the Sustainable Population Party and the HEMP party are best situated to benefit from preference flows.
Abbott, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens Deputy leader Adam Brandt have all visited WA in the last week to campaign ahead of the state’s April 5 Senate poll.
The solar industry has done the same, with the Australian Solar Council set to publish a solar scorecard on the Senate candidates in The West Australian newspaper this weekend, backed by a TV advertising campaign.
ASC chief John Grimes noted that the Greens actually supported an increased renewables target. “We want all political parties to commit publicly to saving solar and the Renewable Energy Target,” he said.
“Politicians know Australians love solar because it cuts household power bills. They know that supporting the Renewable Energy Target at the Senate election will deliver them votes. Not supporting the Renewable Energy Target will cost them votes.”
The Solar Citizens group has welcomed Dio Wang’s move, saying that with almost 150,000 homes in WA featuring a PV array, solar is hugely popular in the state.
“That’s over 360,000 voters who are wondering how the candidates in WA will ensure that solar is secure in the State – and can continue to grow,” said Solar Citizens’ National Director Lindsay Soutar.
The solar lobby group pointed to the backflip on a FIT reduction, proposed by Liberal Premier Colin Barnett’s government last month. Barnett and Energy Minister Nahan backed down from plans to slash the FIT for existing FIT customers within days of having announced the move.
Friends of the Earth welcome PUP’s committmet to the RET. “Clive Palmer is an astute politician who understands Australians dont want to go backwards on renewable energy,” spokesman Leigh Ewbank said.
“If the RET Review recommends cutting the Target they ‘re risking 4000 jobs and $10 billion worth of investment.”
The ballot draw appears to have handed an advantage to the Greens’ Ludlam. The Wikileaks party has drawn the ballot’s first column and would presumably benefit from donkey votes. Wikileak’s deputy chairman Omar Todd has already indicated support for Senator Ludlam – who is an outspoken advocate for digital freedom.
“We have a lot of respect for Scott Ludlam, and we would love to contribute to him,” said Todd.
Labor candidate and current Senator Louise Pratt also appears to have benefited from preference deals in the WA race. The Sex Party has preferenced the ALP ahead of the Greens and directed its preferences directly to Pratt. Some other micro parties have followed suit and directed preferences directly to Senator Pratt.