South Australia’s new premier Steve Marshall has taken a sledgehammer to Tesla’s virtual power plant in a dramatic early signal that after 16 years of Labor government things will definitely be different.
There are plenty of renewable and sustainability advocates who will be hoping that it’s a kind of reflex action that can be reversed or ameliorated in some way as the new regime sinks into the job, though it was promised on the hustings.
The big question is why the new premier wants to wind back the thing that’s putting Adelaide, sore and sorry as it has been, on the global map. But here’s the thing – when we spoke to the Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese for an interview late last year he understood there was a bipartisan approach on renewables.
A change of government would not derail the partnership the city had developed with the state to roll out a series of sustainable solutions. One reason is that South Australia simply doesn’t have the coal so is also absent the powerful coal lobby, right?
Except for the imperative of appearances over substance and the need to be seen helping out the Feds in Canberra with their recent, and we think embarrassing, attack on SA’s huge renewable energy capacity.
There is no doubt that PM Malcolm Turnbull and energy minister Josh Frydenberg will be doing soft shoe victory shuffles into cabinet meetings for a while to come. With any luck it will embolden this dynamic duo to start pushing for a shift to the centre, again, as more than a few political pundits pointed out on the weekend, after both the SA election result and the Labor win in the Batman by-election over the Greens.
That’s what is hopefully underway as the loony Abbott years go into abeyance and with them the extremes they fuelled.
Of course you have to hope that a shift to the centre does not equal apathy on climate and sustainability. In fact, there are plenty of signs that maybe these are now more mainstream issues.
In the case of the Greens it’s possible first that their loss in Batman was purely the result of nasty infighting. On a more positive note maybe voters think Labor will finally do the right thing on issues such as Adani and that the prevarication of the weeks before were leader Bill Shorten playing both sides of the street.
The big but, is that in the case of the fossil fuel lobby, they have not gone away yet. And of course the wolves must still be fed. So in SA Marshall looks like he’s been tapped to carry the anti-renewables can just a bit down the road in order to help out the bosses in Canberra. Is his heart in it?
We and a big bunch of other people hope not.
Marshall has replaced the bold Tesla plan to place free solar power and battery storage on 50,000 homes with a subsidy for batteries of just $2500 and of course that implies the households will have the capital resources to get the batteries installed while they wait for the rebate.
A smattering of social housing properties, about 1000, will be unaffected and will benefit from plans already locked in, but it’s not a good look for a state that’s been desperate for a bit of love from anyone and couldn’t believe its luck when Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and Elon Musk came to the rescue. This attention from the grooviest, coolest dudes on the planet must have been more than a bit of an ego sting for the other dynamic duo (Turnbull and Frydenberg).
The reason there’s hope it’s more symbol than substance is because renewables are popular in SA and what premier can ignore what the people want in his state in favour of what some distant HQ wants?
And on the promise to dump the renewable energy target of 75 per cent by 2025? Well that too might be more style than substance since many people think the state will get to that target anyway, with or without the government.
Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese certainly is confident he can work with the new regime on sustainability initiatives.
He told The Fifth Estate on Monday he expected to continue the partnership with the state government on a “broad range of policies, projects and co-investments, including in the area of sustainability”.
“We will be discussing these matters in the coming weeks with the incoming government and we are optimistic of continuing this partnership.”
“Greening the grid” was key to the city’s goals to reduce carbon emissions and make Adelaide one of the world’s first Carbon Neutral cities.
“A renewable energy target creates certainty and sends a strong signal to the market to encourage investment in renewable energy projects,” he said.
In the past few years it’s attracted major international companies and created hundreds of new jobs being created across a range of industries, he said.
“Given the new state government’s focus on job creation, as well as their strong innovation and technology agenda, we hope they will continue to support this investment.
“The transition to renewable energy is now irreversible. The economics are simply too compelling to ignore; for both generators and consumers.”
He also pointed to a recent report by the Australian Energy Market Commission showing that consumer energy costs in South Australia were expected to reduce by almost 15 per cent in the next two years due to the amount of new generation due to come online, the vast majority of which is from renewable energy projects.
Haese wouldn’t comment on the role of the Feds in the Liberals’ stance nor on what happened to the Xenophon juggernaut that was at first so threatening to the state leadership and then ran out of steam, in yet more evidence that voters are returning to the centre.
Other observers were less diplomatic and said Marshall was a welcome change after the hubris of former premier Jay Weatherill.
Time will tell.