On June 23, the government voted to reduce the Renewable Energy Target (RET), from the original 41,000 gigawatt hours target to 33,000 gigawatt hours.
The scheme was designed to increase the amount of investment into renewable energy by offering financial incentives to power stations to generate power through things such as wind and solar power. In effect this simply means lining the pockets of big polluters as they refuse to fully implement available renewable technologies.
On top of being another form of corporate handout, the RET has never set a sufficient target to actually address climate change.
The fact is, even before the RET was reduced, Australia has been becoming more dependent on coal. Coal exports are still expected to double by 2020, adding the carbon dioxide equivalent of a large new coal-fired power station or steel mill every three weeks for the next decade. The proposed Carmichael Coal Mine in central Queensland, set to produce 60 million tonnes per year, will on its own add eight times more carbon dioxide annually than the old 20% RET would have saved.
The modest targets set for more renewable energy only apply to domestic electricty: not to the 77% of our energy production that’s exported (mostly in coal), nor the 350 million barrels of oil per year we use (mostly for transport).
Even if the old RET was maintained, renewables would still account for less than 2% of total energy production and 6.3% of consumption; 20% more energy than today will come from fossil fuels, as will 7% more electricity.
But as the recent cut to the RET has shown, even small concessions are unacceptable to big business. With the new lower targets and the introduction of a wind commissioner to address the potential “health impacts” of wind farms, renewable energy looks even further away.
Is it any wonder that both major parties are ignoring climate change and popular demand for cleaner energy production? The largest donors to the Labor and Liberal parties are from the energy and mining sectors, which through no coincidences receive the most corporate welfare.
Energy supplier AGL gave almost $100,000 to the NSW Labor and Liberal parties while seeking approval to drill 110 coal seam gas wells. Gina Rinehart flew MPs to a lavish wedding in India in her private jet soon after getting approval for largest coal mine in Australia. Mining companies receive fuel rebate subsidies worth $2.2 billion per year. The list goes on.
While cutting targets for renewable energy should be seen as a step-backwards, it was clear from the beginning that the RET was a capitulation to the big polluters.
Australia has vast, sparsely populated areas that could easily be utilised for renewable energy. In fact, the Sun’s energy falling on Australia in one day is equal to half of the total annual energy required by the entire world, not to mention wind, geothermal and wave energy that could be utilised by technologies that already exist.
Instead of manoeuvring around capitalism to ensure all the big profiteers are happy with legislation, we need to close the big polluting power stations of Australia and replace them clean power accessible to all.
By taking energy production out of private hands in into democratic public ownership we could quickly phase out outdated and polluting energy production while ensuring provisions to retrain and reskill workers for renewable energy production.
If the interests of people and the planet were prioritised over profits, Australia could be powered 100% from renewable energy within just a few years. This will require building a strong, environmentally-conscious workers movement campaigning for socialist change.
By Toby Dite