Labor plans to double RET

OPPOSITION leader Bill Shorten is aiming to announce a policy at the Australian Labor Party’s national conference at the weekend that could put a chill down the spines of many of Australia’s power generators.
Labor plans to double RET Labor plans to double RET Labor plans to double RET Labor plans to double RET Labor plans to double RET

Opposition leader Bill Shorten. (Courtesy of Bill Shorten's office)

Haydn Black

The Labor leader, who is polling poorly in the electorate, wants to increase the Renewable Energy Target to 50% by 2030.

A poll by Essential Media this week found 50% of people thought the government should prioritise support for renewables over the coal industry, compared to just 6% of people who thought the opposite, suggesting Shorten might be on a winner.

Recently the Coalition and Labor committed to a lower benchmark of a minimum 33,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020, 23.5% of all power generated in Australia at that date.

The 2020 target already requires a dramatic growth in renewables.

Last year coal and gas accounted for 86.53% of energy production while renewables accounted for 13.47% at 16,000 gigawatt hours for the year.

Shorten said the move demonstrated Labor would "not be intimidated" by Coalition scare campaigns over carbon pricing, after a leak of a proposed draft emissions trading scheme.

"We will take steps to reduce pollution, and we will not be intimidated by ridiculous scare campaigns," Shorten said, while he ruled out re-introducing a new carbon tax,” he said.

Incoming ALP president and shadow environment spokesman Mark Butler said the 50% target was “an ambitious but do-able goal".

The policy comes after the ALP lost the previous election, in part due to the relentless anti-Carbon Tax campaign run by then Opposition leader Tony Abbott, as much as Labor’s infighting.

It is designed to draw a stark line of difference between the coal-loving Coalition, which wants to allow a Chinese coal miner to dig up prime agricultural land in New South Wales, and the ALP, which is presumably the friend of Big Wind and Big Solar and a good place for Greens supporters to park their vote.

Australia’s 50% target would match Denmark, which is committed to the same target but by 2020.

California is also aiming at 50% renewable energy by 2030, but Australia would lag behind New Zealand, which is aiming at 90% renewable by 2025, and Germany, which is pitching for 55-60% by 2035.

The Climate Institute has described the announcement as “significant”

“Major economies are now making clean energy investments central to their future economic prosperity,” The Climate Institute CEO John Connor said.

“To remain competitive with other countries we must modernise and clean up our old, polluting and inefficient power sector.

“A strong and growing renewable energy industry is critical if we are to achieve the overall goal both major parties have signed up to – limiting global warming to less than 2C. Achieving this goal will require a near-zero emissions power sector before 2050.

“We welcome this new target and achieving it will require a toolbox of policy solutions.

“The key barrier to modernising our power sector is retiring and replacing our outdated and polluting coal fired generation fleet. It makes little sense to have half of our power generation renewables if the other half is dominated by the most polluting generation technology – brown coal.”

The Electrical Trades Union has already come out in favour of the policy, saying it is a vital response to climate change that would also drive job creation.

The union said the bold plan would need to be coupled with appropriate support for existing energy workers, providing them with the skills and opportunities to transition from traditional technologies.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks praised the announcement, saying it heralded the return of long overdue leadership in the area of renewable energy and the nation’s response to the global challenge of climate change.

“In just two years, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has overseen uncertainty and job losses in the burgeoning renewable energy sector, with senseless attacks apparently aimed at destroying a growth industry that already employs tens of thousands of Australians,” Hicks said.

“Today’s announcement comes in stark contrast to that approach, and marks the arrival of a real vision for the renewables sector.”

Hicks said he hoped the plan would be the first step in developing an energy policy that was driven by science and innovation, rather than ideology and politics given Australia is abundant in renewable energy sources and is well placed to take advantage of technological developments, such as network battery storage.

“We need a long-term practical plan for how Australia is going to survive and thrive in a renewable energy future.

“But this announcement must also be followed by a modernisation roadmap for workers in traditional energy production areas, including industry assistance, retraining and up-skilling of power workers, to ensure they are not left behind in the transition to renewables.

“There also needs to be clarity and certainty provided to the business community, with confirmation that it is safe and viable to invest in the renewable energy sector over the long-term.”

Hicks said the renewable energy sector had experienced turmoil and uncertainty under the Coalition government, as renewable energy targets were slashed and the goalposts dramatically shifted for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, causing job losses, financial hardship and spooking the investors.

Labor’s proposed target would require a doubling of the green sector in just over a decade, and would allow a much milder starting carbon price for its emissions trading scheme.

However, it comes as investment in solar and wind generation is increasing dramatically and companies such as AGL are targeting phasing out coal-fired generation by 2050.

Labor previously took a target of 40% of baseload being generated from renewables by 2050 to the 2010 election.

While Shorten's personal polling is low, Labor is consistently ahead of the Coalition on a two-party-preferred basis and the next election is not expected until 2016.

The Abbott government is expected to announce its post-2020 emissions reduction target in August.