At the Clean Energy Week Conference in July 2013, South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham made the following pledge:
“The Coalition remains committed to the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target. It is a position we have re-stated on multiple occasions and following the last review conducted by the Climate Change Authority.
It has been interesting to note the claims being made about what the Coalition will or won’t do. All of it is simply conjecture. The Coalition supports the current system, including the 41,000 giga-watt hours target.
We know and appreciate that the industry wants certainty and I assure you that any review will be conducted in an open and transparent way, guided by experts, with all parties encouraged to make submissions. There are no hidden agendas in this process, just a determination to ensure the Renewable Energy Target is operating as effectively as it can.
There is no doubt that renewable energy will play an important and growing role in delivering the future energy needs of Australia.
Modelling demonstrates that the RET is the primary driver of change in electricity generation in the period to 2020. The investment decisions which have driven the investment in wind farms and solar were made irrespective of the Carbon Tax and started well before it. Those investment decisions will continue if the Carbon Tax is removed.
The RET will be a key driver of change under the Coalition, complementing our direct action initiatives.
We also know there is a role for research and development and so have given our support to the role of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
A significant part of our Direct Action Plan is support for solar power.
Despite the constant changes to policy settings over recent years around small scale schemes, one million roofs across Australia now have a solar system installed. It is an important milestone and an indication of the Australian community’s support for solar.
While Australia has now hit the one million mark, we still believe there is opportunity to cautiously support the market as it expands in a sustainable way. This includes providing a greater focus on solar hot water, which was hit hard by the Government last year suddenly scrapping its rebate scheme, and encouraging greater uptake among low income households.
The Coalition has a strong track record on the environment and in its support for renewable energy through the Renewable Energy Target. What we want to be able to deliver, if elected, is a policy that provides sustainability and a long-term future for the industry, without constant chopping and changing.
We want the clean energy industries to have a strong future and I close today by assuring you that we believe our policy settings can help you to achieve that strong future and we look forward to working with you to achieve that shared goal. I wish you all a very successful Clean Energy Week.”
In November 2013, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced to the Clean Energy Council industry gathering that the Coalition was committed to its $500 million “one million solar roofs” program.
Mr Hunt described the flagship solar program – which provided $500 rebates for installing one million rooftop solar energy systems over the next 10 years – as a “shining beacon” of the Abbott government’s Direct Action climate policy.
He added a further $50 million each would be given to the solar towns and solar schools programs.
“Each of these three new programs is being prepared for implementation and will commence in the 2014-15 financial year,” he said.
As the budget drew closer, Mr Hunt continued to assure industry figures that the solar policies would proceed.
As has become the habit, all but $2 million of Hunt’s $600 million in promised policies was abandoned.
The 2014-15 budget allocated no money for solar roofs and nothing for solar schools. Just $2.1 million was given to the solar towns policy despite Mr Hunt promising $50 million in November.
“The budget speech delivered by the Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed that the government would move to abolish the primary renewable energy agency, the $3.1 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), cut the planned “one million solar roofs program, and cast doubt on the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET).
ARENA will have the funds to support 181 projects, worth about $1 billion, that have already been contracted since its creation in 2012, but will get just $15 million over each of the next two years for new projects.”
Similarly the coalition promised to maintain Landcare funding but instead $484 million was cut from Landcare and the Caring for Our Country programs.
WWF-Australia National Manager Climate Change Kellie Caught said, “The government could reduce debt, invest in renewables and tackle climate change if it kept the carbon price and cut the $3 billion to $5 billion a year in fossil fuel subsides.”
“The big end of town’s diesel fuel subsidies cost every taxpayer around $300 a year,” Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said. “While other motorists continue to pay 32c a litre now and more each year on fuel, companies like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton pay no tax on the diesel they use. And because the fuel excise will increase every year, big corporations will get an increased subsidy every year.”
John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Council, said “Whilst the government defends billions of dollars of fuel subsidies for wealthy miners, it has abolished our world-leading solar research.”
In July, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann wrote to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) directing it to change its investment mandate, banning new funding for wind projects.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “It is our policy to abolish the CEFC, because we think that if the projects stack up economically, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be supported in the usual way. While the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies, certainly not existing wind farms.”
The Climate Council provides some evidence based research
Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, particularly in wind and solar (Geoscience Australia and ABARE 2010).
In fact, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO 2013) Australia has more than enough renewable energy resources to power all our electricity needs. AEMO (2013) modeled scenarios for providing 100 percent of Australia’s electricity from renewable energy, and found potential renewable generation to be about 500 times greater than demand in the National Electricity Market (NEM).
However despite having world-class renewable energy resources, particularly in wind and solar, Australia has a low share of renewable electricity generation – seventh lowest among 28 member countries of the International Energy Agency (Australian Energy Regulator 2012). According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, uncertainty over the RE T in Australia has resulted in a 70% slump in investment in renewable energy over the past year (The Guardian 2014).
As well as providing low or no emissions energy, renewables attract investment and create jobs, particularly in regional Australia. Twenty one thousand people are already employed in the renewable energy industry in Australia (Clean Energy Council 2014a) and modelling by the Climate Institute (2011) estimated that nearly 32,000 renewable energy jobs (including over 6,800 new permanent jobs) could be created in Australia by 2030 with strong and consistent climate policies.
Farmers and landowners in regional areas who lease their land for wind turbines also benefit through annual lease payments which provide a reliable, alternative source of income and help to “drought-proof” farms (Chapman 2013). Around $16.4 million is paid annually in lease payments for hosting wind turbines (Epuron 2014; Clean Energy Council 2014a).
Solar and wind provide clean energy and consequently also have additional benefits of reducing the pollution from other energy sources. Coal, the dominant fuel for electricity in Australia produces pollutants that damage human health through mining, transportation, combustion and the disposal of waste (Epstein et al 2011). In Australia, it is estimated that the adverse impacts from pollutants produced from coal-fired electricity generation costs A$ 2.6 billion annually (ATSE 2009).
Instead of taking heed of this mountain of evidence, the Coalition, urged on by cross bench Senators, prefers to listen to Sarah Laurie who heads the anti-wind-farm Waubra Foundation.
She claims that wind turbines can make people’s lips vibrate “as from a distance of 10km away” and that turbines can “perceptibly rock stationary cars even further than a kilometre away from the nearest wind turbine.”
Last December, Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal refused her standing as an expert witness in a case, arguing that she had no training in research, but was seeking to provide expert interpretation of research. They also noted that as an unregistered doctor, she was not allowed to diagnose health problems, but that this was precisely what much of her proposed evidence involved her doing. The judgment states that Laurie has agreed to stop calling herself Dr Laurie.
That did not stop our government accepting her “expert testimony” to the Senate Committee on Wind Turbines who quote her extensively in their findings.
2.8 Dr Sarah Laurie told the committee:
The human cost of the failure to protect people from excessive noise pollution, especially at night, is terrible. I have personally helped to prevent a number of suicides of people who were utterly desperate because of the consequences of excessive noise pollution and who reached out for help…
From my experience there is a subset of people who are terribly impacted very early on. Those people are the ones who tend to present with acute vestibular disorder type of symptoms—dizziness and motion sickness, which can be accompanied by extreme anxiety. Those people often just cannot last very long, and they move if they can.
However when Professor Simon Chapman AO, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, gave his evidence the committee were damning.
2.21 The committee highlights the fact that Professor Chapman is not a qualified, registered nor experienced medical practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist, acoustician, audiologist, physicist or engineer. Accordingly:
- he has not medically assessed a single person suffering adverse health impacts from wind turbines;
- his research work has been mainly—and perhaps solely—from an academic perspective without field studies;
- his views have been heavily criticised by several independent medical and acoustic experts in the international community; and
- many of his assertions do not withstand fact check analyses.
2.22 Professor Chapman has made several claims which are contrary to the evidence gathered by this committee. First, he argues that the majority of Australia’s wind turbines have never received a single complaint. There are various problems with this statement:
i.wind turbines located significant distances from residents will not generate complaints;
ii.many residents suffering adverse health effects were not aware of any nexus between their health and the impact of wind turbines in order to make a complaint;
iii. just because residents do not lodge a formal complaint does not mean they are not suffering adverse health effects;
iv.data obtained by Professor Chapman from wind farm operators of the numbers of complaints lodged cannot be relied upon; and
v.the use of non-disclosure clauses and ‘good neighbour agreements’ legally restricts people from making adverse public statements or complaints.
And so the madness continues . . .