Key elements of the Australian solar industry are openly campaigning against former prime minister Tony Abbott in his electorate of Warringah, with staff members and senior executives distributing postcards to commuters at the Manly ferry terminal on Friday morning in an attempt to counter the pro-coal messaging of the local MP.
Unlike fellow recaciltrant and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, Abbott does not have a host of large scale wind and solar farms operating and being built in his electorate, but he does have a major solar industry hub.
Several key solar industry players have made Manly their headquarters, creating what they call the “Solar Beach”, and it features companies such as Edify Energy, Wirsol, Solar Choice and Renew Estate, along with US tracking technology company Next Tracker, grid studies specialist Lloyds Register and RINA Consulting.
Together they have built, originated, supplied and or financed more than $1.5 billion of solar farms around the country, as well as the most recent Tesla big battery in Victoria. About 20 staff and executives distributed the post-cards to commuters on Friday morning.
“We are a major employer in your local area,” the Solar Beach postcard says (the front page is above and the flip side below), “so we’re well placed to counter the coal lobby and deliver up-to-date energy facts and figures to our Warringah electorate.”
It goes on to say that the economic argument has already been won … and, contrary to what Abbott believes, “the cheapest and most reliable (day/night) form of unsubsidised energy is no longer coal, it’s solar farms with storage.”
It goes on to say that solar farms without subsidy generate power around 50% to 75% cheaper than a new coal generator would do, and are cheaper too than an exiting coal generator, even when “firmed” – and points to the recent government owned Snowy Hydro tender to confirm this.
Despite this, the government seems determined to underwrite new investment in coal generation, either in new plant or to prolong the life of ageing, expensive and polluting coal generators beyond their expiry date.
“Manly-Warringah’s Solar Beach believes our local community wants a clean future to deliver lower costs of living and to promote business growth,” it says.
Solar Choice’s Angus Gemmell says the campaign was about “setting the facts and figures straight”, and to highlight the fact that the electorate has a thriving solar industry. He says the response has been a mixture of interest and curiosity, and only about one in 12 had rejected them. The ferry terminal was targeted because commuters had “plenty of time” to read the material on the trip into the city.
The salvo, or rather postcard, from the Solar Beach industry hub is just the latest in what is emerging as a broad-based push to try and unseat Abbott at the next election, which will likely be held in May, but could be as early as March 2.
There has been talk of a strong independent candidate, similar to Kerryn Phelps who won Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth. Author Jane Caro has talked of the possibility but another candidate may emerge.
Like the seat of Wentworth, any such independent is likely to gain the support of moderate Liberal voters who tried unsuccessfully to stop Abbott’s pre-selection. Manly has previously played host to a strong independent, Peter McDonald, in the state parliament, so its residents are not adverse to the idea.