Well, that didn’t last long. The Palmer United Party’s much-hyped declaration of support for Australia’s existing renewable energy target lasted less than a day before party leader Clive Palmer decided that the target should not be mandatory after all.
On Tuesday, the PUP candidate in the Senate re-run, Dio Wang, came out in support of the RET, saying in a press statement, that the target “should remain as it is “(a fixed, 41,000 GWh target by 2020).
Those comments were apparently prompted by the Australia Solar Council’s campaign to maintain the RET, and seemingly endorsed by Palmer on Wednesday. But in an interview on Radio National on Thursday morning, the aspiring coal miner said the target should not be mandatory.
“We don’t necessarily think it should be a mandatory thing,” Palmer said. “I think these sort of things have got to be targets where people are incentivised to do it because it is the right thing to do.”
Palmer seemed more interested in differentiating his party from The Greens, insisting that it “won’t be voting with the Greens” on renewables (the Greens, of course, want an even higher and mandatory renewable target).
Palmer also insisted the current review – to be handled by a panel led by climate change sceptic Dick Warburton and fossil fuel lobbyist Brian Fisher – was not needed.
His comments underline two key points.
One is that Palmer doesn’t seem to understand the way the RET works. Without certainty, and a legal requirement, there is not a slowflake’s chance in hell (or a solar-charged electron’s chance in Australia’s predominantly coal-fired grid) that any of the major retailers would compromise the earnings of their coal and gas fired generators by installing more renewables.
That is exactly what they (the electricity retailers, the generators, and their state government owners, and the usual crowd of self-interested lobby groups) are fighting against now. The uncertainy about whether the retailers will be required to meet the target is what has stopped new large scale generation in its tracks for at last the past year.
The other point is that PUP should not be relied upon to stick up for the renewable energy target, or any other environmental policy for that matter. The solar campaign currently running in the Senate re-run, and the clean energy industry in general, needs to make that very clear.
Here is the transcript of the interview with Fran Kelly:
Fran Kelly: “Is that now official Palmer United Policy that the RET should remain the way it is?”
Clive Palmer: “Well we’ve got to careful about saving tax payers money and not doing these political things for political reasons. And we think there has been an extensive review and we should stick with it”
FK: “So, if support for the existing fixed, 41,000GWh target for the large-scale RET is now Palmer United Party policy, which I understand that it is, does that mean you’ve vote with the Greens in the new senate to block moves to change it?…”
CP: […] “Australia needs to have a Renewable Energy Target and how we achieve that we have to look at” … “I don’t think we will be voting with the Greens on any of those things that they support.”
FK: Well, [The Greens] support the Renewable Energy Target.
CP: “We think it needs to be done with incentives where people want to do it and see if we can get Australia a better balance. We don’t necessarily think it should be a mandatory thing”
FK: “Do you think the target should remain mandatory as it is now?”
CP: “No I don’t think it should remain mandatory, I think these sort of things have got to be targets where people are incentivised to do it because it is the right thing to do. So that’s the difference between us and the Greens.”
“We think everyone – even the Coalition – should support the idea of renewable energy for Australia, but whether you can force people to do it is another thing.”
FK: But isn’t that what the government’s review is all about? To look at what should happen with the RET?
CP: We don’t need to make a review to know that’s the case. That’s a philosophical position…”