by Maria Taylor
John Hewson threw Murdoch columnist and national attack scribe Andrew Bolt into a serious lather when the former federal Liberal leader fronted a recent call for consumers to switch their electricity retailer away from those selling primarily coal-based power.
This raised the interesting point that some on the far right of Australian politics throw around words like ‘treasonous’ when a conservative notable speaks up strongly for action on climate change and in support of renewable energy. And has the experience to back up his words.
Never mind that once upon a time (back in the early 1990s) Australia’s response to climate change was bi-partisan – that is Labor and Liberal governments across Australia were planning effective responses.
No doubt many on the conservative side of politics even today think it’s not a matter of taking sides politically when they consider action to avoid the mounting risk of climate change on behalf of society as a whole.
Hewson himself told the Bulletin that he spoke up because he believes in good policy and that the federal government’s attempt to roll back the renewable energy target (which was set up under John Howard) is “not governing. For Abbott to pick a fight now with an industry where he could have good news, is just dumb politics.”
He said: “We made a start back in the Howard days, and it’s just frustrating [what has happened]. We could be out in front with renewable technology and creating jobs.” Instead he noted a 90% fall in investment (including foreign investment) in the renewable sector since the announcement of the proposed rollback from 41,000 GWh “that makes no sense in economic or political terms”.
He charged that Industry Minister Ian McFarlane bows easily to vested interests and that there has been intensive lobbying against the renewable industry by Origin, AGL and Energy Australia whom he calls the “dirty three”.
In face of the news that the Clean Energy Council had offered to retreat and accept 33,5000 GWh to help end the impasse of the last 18 months (still no resolution two weeks later) Hewson wrote to Get-Up subscribers:
“As a former leader of the Liberal Party I’ve seen first hand the undue influence big corporations can have over politicians and public policy.
It’s time to shift the balance away from the big energy companies and their dirty and expensive power habits to Australian consumers who want cheaper and cleaner power.
“The dirty three companies are the main reason the Abbott Government is squibbing on its clear election promise to keep the RET at 41,000 GWH. All three are complete hypocrites. They claim to support renewable energy while walking the corridors of power, lobbying to undermine it.”
Hewson also claimed that these energy retailers are aiming for excessive profit margins on their household electricity bills.
“The dirty energy companies might want to protect their huge investments in coal, gas and coal seam gas, but we can — right now — stop them in their tracks.”
The remedy according to Get-Up and Hewson is for consumers to switch home or business electricity (easily done online these days) to an all renewable retailer like Powershop which offers integrated renewable energy, wind and hydro. Red and Momentum are two other retailers, linked to Tassie and Snowy hydro respectively.
Hewson concluded: “Big companies like AGL, Energy Australia and Origin have huge influence on public policy. [These are] companies with a vested interest in bolstering the status quo of fossil fuel dominance and who have ensured the Coalition break their pre-election promise not to cut the Renewable Energy Target.”
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Australia not the place to invest in renewables
If this is the strategy, it’s working
The pro-renewable website RenewEconomy and Fairfax media reported at the end of March that Spain’s Banco Santander “once the world’s largest financier of renewable energy projects” appears to be quitting the Australian market due to the uncertainty about the renewable energy target.
Of interest to Bulletin readers is that the site reports that Banco Santander is attempting to sell its 90% stake in the nearby 106.8 MW Taralga Windfarm in which it invested in 2012 and which had started to produce electricity.
Banco Santander reportedly provided most of the $280 million invested in Taralga, which had a 10 year contract to supply power to Energy Australia.
“It follows a decision to establish a global renewable energy fund with two Canadian pension giants, but Australia was excluded because of perceived poor prospects for the sector in this country,” according to the RenewEconomy article.