South Australian premier Jay Weatherill says this weekend’s election will be seen as a referendum on renewable energy, like it or not.
While a Labor win will likely see the clean energy sector peg the outcome on an ambitious raft of renewable energy projects and policies recently announced,
on the flip side Weatherill is adamant the fossil fuel lobby will use a loss to push the view that the state has “gone too far” in its ambitions.
In a complex election with no clear frontrunner and three parties in strong positions, where predicting an outcome has never been more difficult and multiple issues are at the fore, it’s a tense time for the clean energy sector. The stakes are high. Whatever happens could set the pace of transformation to a clean energy economy, not only in the state but nationwide.
If re-elected Labor will install one of the country’s most ambitious renewable energy targets of 75 per cent by 2025, and the first storage target of 25 per cent. It will also offer $10,000 in interest-free loans to any household wanting solar and battery systems, and create a virtual power plant with 50,000 solar and battery-connected homes.
And in a dramatic announcement late Thursday the state government said it would provide $10 million to British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta to kickstart a battery storage plant that will be bigger than Elon Musk’s and the biggest in the world.
On the flip-side, the Liberal Party is committing to undoing what it sees as Labor largesse in the clean energy space by scrapping the targets and programs.
The Liberals are using the tried-and-tested energy bill reduction tactic in its energy policy announcements, with price an important factor for the state with the highest retail electricity prices in Australia. Though opposition leader Steve Marshall had to apologise this week after the electoral commissioner found an ad in which the party claimed energy bills would drop more than $300 if the Liberal Party were elected was “inaccurate and misleading”, as much of the savings would occur regardless of policy change.
While there has been a lot of unfounded blaming of renewables for price blowouts, the Liberals too see some value in pursuing clean tech, offering their own $100 million battery grant program for 40,000 households (though the ambition pales in comparison to Labor’s plans).
Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party is responding to the price issue by promising a “co-op retailer” that will enter into a power purchase agreement with a non-major generator for 150MW of renewable energy, which he says could increase competition and reduce prices by 20 per cent for the retailer’s members, which would comprise 50,000 people on incomes under $75,000 a year.
Many see Xenophon as likely kingmaker in the election, with betting odds favouring a hung parliament.
Mr Xenophon has stated he’ll use a balance of power situation to prioritise reliability and energy cost reduction (though the party has also said another objective is to meet the Paris agreement).
“SA-BEST intends to use a balance of power position in the parliament to make sure that whoever forms the next South Australian government ensures that South Australian consumers and industry and business pay less and enjoy reliable supply,” its energy policy states.
“If the government can’t get prices down, or can’t keep the lights on, then the lights will go out in the premier’s office.”
Just how he’ll choose that premier, if it comes down to it, is for now up in the air.
Adani the key issue in Batman
In the Batman by-election in inner north Melbourne, also to be held on Saturday, environmental concerns have been key as the Greens try to snatch the long-held safe Labor seat from Ged Kearney, continuing their string of inner-city upsets.
It’s undeniable Labor’s unclear position on the Adani mine is key to the inner-city seat battle for the federal seat.
Groups like 350.org and the Australian Conservation Foundation have pushed hard. On Tuesday 350.org robocalled 31,000 people in the area, using Northcote resident and Victorian Women’s Trust executive director Mary Crooks to draw attention to Labor’s refusal to rule out support of the mine.
“Where the parties stand on Adani’s mine will be the issue that decides my vote at this Saturday’s election,” Ms Crooks said.
“Adani’s mine will be terrible for the climate, terrible for the [Great Barrier] Reef and terrible for our kids’ future. That’s why it’s so disappointing that the Labor Party and Bill Shorten have refused to stop this mine, despite the majority of Australians being against it.
“No politician can look their constituents in the eye and say they are serious about tackling dangerous climate change unless they also oppose Adani.”
Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy added to the call, saying: “We call upon the Labor party to end the public confusion about their position and make an unequivocal promise to stop Adani’s mine if they are elected as the next federal government.”
While Ms Kearney and a number of senior Labor figures have expressed concern over the mine, environmentalists are calling for Labor to release a clear statement opposing the project, arguing that more than three quarters of Batman residents – and most Australians – are opposed to the mine.
The party, though, appears stuck, concerned it could lose Queensland voters to the Liberal Party if it takes an unequivocal stance against the mine. Though if it doesn’t, it could continue to see its inner city bases turn Green.