IT was a full-house at RenewWA’s forum on climate change and renewable energies at ECU Mt Lawley on Thursday, with another 120 people on the waiting list.
However, no Liberal party politicians accepted the invitation to attend and Labor’s shadow energy minister Bill Johnston cancelled at the 11th hour.
What happened behind the scenes at Labor HQ is still a bit murky, but on the morning of the forum The Australian ran a story claiming Mr Johnston had, in a recorded speech to a conference in October, said he was in favour of a state renewable energy target (RET).
The article quoted Liberal energy minister Mike Nahan as saying that’d push prices up and cost jobs.
Labor’s media machine reacted quickly: At 8.10am that same morning they issued a stark press release stating “WA Labor will not introduce a state-based renewable energy target”.
“We aspire to have more renewable energy.
“After the election, we will sit down with industry and the community to see what is achievable and affordable.”
Mr Johnston then pulled out of the forum later that day.
Piers Verstegen is director of the Conservation Council of WA, one of the signatories to RenewWA, which comprises 40 varied organisations that want a shift to renewable energy.
“We are disappointed that at this time Labor’s not going to announce a RET, but we remain optimistic that if they form government, or even if they don’t, a [RET] is the only pathway forward for WA,” he said.
“We’re confident that whichever government comes to power will realise we do need a RET.”
As private households keep buying up solar power to get off the grid, it undermines the coal industry (which is already heavily subsidised by government).
Eventually it’ll go the way of the dinosaurs, and Mr Verstegen says the smart thing is for government to step in and manage that transition to make sure coal workers don’t end up redundant.
“Any government that’s wanting to maintain low energy prices and not wanting to pay subsidies to these industries will realise we have to restructure,” Mr Verstegen says.
He says Germany’s experience of getting out of coal has seen its coal-reliant communities rejuvenated as they transition to renewables, and that a town like Collie could do the same thing, switching from coal to wind farms.
“They’ve got a workforce, they’ve got an industrial base down there they can adapt and draw from, and the manufacturing that already exists down there, and that puts them to a great advantage,” Mr Verstegen says.
“But it does require government policy to put in place targets and signal to the industry that government’s going to support this transition.”
RenewWA’s Alastair Leith says state-based RETs are important because the federal RET has been undermined since the days of the Abbott government.
He says the renewable energy industry needs the certainty of the RET, and without a state-based target we’ll see fewer renewable projects go ahead.
Every state except WA and NSW have RETs (of varying strength), the strongest being the ACT which has set a target of 100 per cent renewables by 2020.
by DAVID BELL