On Friday May 16, Friends of the Earth’s fact-finding RET Review Road Trip visited Victoria’s leading solar suburbs—Hoppers Crossing, Werribee and Point Cook.
What did we find? In a nutshell: The suburbs get it. Solar is viewed as an indispensible new technology that is cutting power bills.
The Renewable Energy Target and other state-based incentives have helped homeowners in Hoppers Crossing, Werribee and Point Cook install a 8,052 solar photovoltaic systems and 14,213 solar hot water systems on their roofs.
One such homeowner is Coralee Klement, a retiree and Werribee resident. Coralee’s 8.3kW solar energy system has made the suburban home clean energy power station. It currently covers all of her energy bills, except for a small gas bill in winter.
“We couldn’t afford not to do it,” Carolee told us. “Electricity bills were getting too expensive. Even in winter we’re in credit with the energy company.”
“We went solar as an investment,” explains Ms Klement. “My super was getting a limited return and dwindling because of fees. The solar system has delivered a good return on investment as well as the environmental benefit to the community.”
The rooftop solar revolution has seen Australians install a massive 3.2 gigawatts of solar power spread over 1.3 millions homes. More than 3 million people now live in a home that generates clean electricity. If you’re looking for a metric for public support for the Renewable Energy target, this is it.
The solar suburbs have set their sights high. They have ambitions beyond intermittent generation. Solar homeowners like Carolee see the credit on their power bill and want to use it to save money on transport fuel costs.
“Once battery storage is available we’d voluntarily take ourselves off grid,” said Carolee. “We’d like to get an electric car one day to do away with the petrol costs.”
It’s this ambition that governments ignore at their peril.
Last year, West Australia’s solar citizens starred down the Barnett government over cuts to the feed-in tariff. The collective power of the state’s solar citizens resulted in a dramatic policy backflip within just 48 hours. “We got it wrong, we’re sorry, we reversed it back to where we were,” Premier Colin Barnettconceded, reversing his government’s decision to cut the tariff from $0.40 to $0.20 cents per kilowatt hour.
Similarly, a weakened Renewable Energy Target will hurt Australia’s solar homeowners and those who aspire to join them. According to the Australian Solar Council, there are 3 million Australians who want solar in the next five years.
Once the Warburton review is completed – which based on all indications to date is biased towards fossil fuel interests – the Abbott government will have to decide whether to act on its recommendations. Will the Abbott government risk ticking off Australia’s solar citizens or will it heed the lesson of West Australia?
The fossil fuel industry has made up its mind—an easy decision when there aren’t political considerations to take into account. The incumbent fossil fuel generators are lobbying the Abbott government to wind back the Renewable Energy Target. They are taking aim at solar which is eating into their profit margins. AGL, for example, have argued for scrapping Federal support for solar in their submission to the Warburton Review.
Some within the party are advancing these interests. Liberal MP Angus Taylor has been lobbying to scrap the Renewable Energy Target within the party ranks. Last year, Angus Taylor circulated a report by Port Jackson Partners—a firm where he was a director—which mounts the case for immediately dumping the target.
Yet perhaps the Abbott government won’t risk the repercussions of attacking renewable energy.
In less than a year, the Abbott government has been criticised for overreach and putting ideology ahead of good policy.
Now, with the release of its maiden budget, the Abbott government appears out of touch with the views of Australians. The government has been punished in the polls—Labor are now the ahead on a two-party basis and opposition leader Bill Shorten is ahead as preferred Prime Minister.
Ticking off Australia’s solar citizens is the last thing the Abbott government needs after suffering a major collapse in public support.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will soon face a choice: To back the fossil fuel industry’s faceless men or Australians who support solar.
The next stop on the RET Road Trip is the coastal town of Anglesea, where the coal mine and power plant operates in close proximity to homes. We’ll meet with residents who are sick of the pollution from the Alcoa-owned coal plant and are building a campaign to Shut It Down.
- Dick Warburton was invited to attend the 11-stop fact-finding mission to help inform his review of the renewable energy policy. Mr Warburton has refused our invitation. Yes 2 Renewables will meet Warburton review panel in Melbourne on Friday May 30.
Source: Yes 2 Renewables. Reproduced with permission.