This summer, a huge swell of renewable energy investment is rippling across the globe, and Victoria is perfectly positioned to catch the wave.
We’re at the crest, poised to drop in. Large solar and wind farms currently under construction in the north and west of the state will start generating power in the next 12 months and provide more energy than all Victorian households currently consume.
Momentum is building; Victorian homes installed solar at a faster rate in October than ever before. During every minute of daylight last month, an average of 8 solar panels were added to houses across the state.
Yet with pre-polling for the state election underway, we’re also on the cusp of a big decision – do we ride the renewable energy wave all the way to shore, or do we pull back, miss out and suffer the consequences?
While it’s hard to separate the major parties on some issues, their differences on clean energy, climate and protecting our environment are stark.
Let’s start with Labor: When Andrews Government came into office, 12 percent of the state’s power was sourced from renewables. Andrews legislated a Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) to deliver 25 percent renewable energy to the grid by 2020 and 40 percent by 2025, creating jobs, successfully cutting pollution and reducing power bills.
This year’s round of VRET auctions supported six new solar and wind farms, and a fortnight ago the Premier announced a new VRET target of 50 percent by 2030.
Labor has managed Hazelwood’s closure well, and attracted investment to the Latrobe Valley, including a new electric vehicle manufacturer that will employ more workers than Hazelwood did directly.
Clean energy has also been the focus of Labor’s cost of living pitch. They will support over 700,000 households to install solar panels, solar hot water and batteries, and recently announced that renters will be able to benefit from solar too.
Andrews talks about renewable energy in terms of creating jobs and reducing power prices, with little mention of the climate crisis. Maybe that’s where Labor politicians are most comfortable, but it also highlights that beyond energy Labor’s environment story much thinner.
Labor has no real nature conservation agenda, no proposed national parks, and the weeping sore of native forest logging threatens to become gangrenous. This is a great shame given past Labor governments have protected threatened River Red Gum wetlands and declared new National Parks to protect Victoria’s forests. These places now support tourism and sustainable jobs.
It’s time Labor’s enthusiasm for renewable energy was matched with a plan to protect our natural environment.
Now, the Greens. As expected, they take Labor’s strong renewables and climate policies and raise them. They plan to power Victoria entirely with renewables by 2030, and are honest this will require retiring our three remaining coal fired power stations and supporting communities through this transition.
The Greens also want to strengthen Victoria’s nature protection laws. They consistently advocate for new National Parks and against native forest logging. But if the election is close and the Greens hold the balance of power, it will be time for them to walk the walk and deliver on their policy agenda.
Finally, the Coalition – who you would assume learned from the Wentworth by-election that voters increasingly insist upon a credible policy on climate change.
It appears they need to learn that lesson again, with Matthew Guy sticking to a tired script and taking the curious path of trying to win government in Australia’s most progressive state by pushing policies Tony Abbott would be proud of.
Instead of riding the renewable energy wave, the Coalition is offering nothing to an electorate who just want to get on with installing solar panels and ending the climate wars.
Mr Guy is promising to scrap the VRET in his first 100 days in office, which would stall the state’s clean energy industry and drive up power prices. Like the Prime Minister, the Victorian Opposition Leader wants to build a new coal or gas fired power station in the Latrobe Valley. And because new coal and gas power stations are more costly than solar or wind farms, presumably he wants us, the taxpayers, to fund it.
My Guy is even planning on intervening to keep Yallourn- Australia’s dirtiest power station- open until at least 2032. Presumably that would require taxpayers funding polluters to keep polluting- as shocking plan from a party that claims to be about ‘small government’.
The Liberals also promise to scrap pollution reduction targets in the state’s Climate Change Act, block new National Parks and weaken forest protection. Their policies are far removed from those Victorians in marginal seats across the state installing solar panels and putting out their recycling bins each week.
This election can be the moment Victoria stands up on the big environment issues of our time. With the election fast approaching the choice is clear – surf the renewable energy wave toward a clean energy future, or swim against the tide, miss out and suffer the damaging consequences of global warming.
Mark Wakeham is CEO of Environment Victoria, an independent charity that has been advocating for Victoria’s environment for 50 years