Kevin Rudd has unveiled a plan to require 20 per cent of Australian electricity to be generated from renewable sources such as solar or wind by 2020, as he tries to regain momentum on climate change in the election campaign.
Labor’s target would increase a typical family’s electricity prices by $40 a year because generating electricity from renewable sources is more expensive.
But the Labor leader said the economic costs would be negligible and the plan would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Labor has previously announced a target of cutting emissions by 60 per cent from their 2000 level by 2050.
“This is necessary to protect jobs into the future and also necessary to protect our environment into the future,” Mr Rudd said in Townsville.
Labor rushed the announcement out to head off damage to its campaign after its environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, gave mixed messages over Labor’s approach to international negotiations on climate change.
Mr Garrett said Labor might agree to new reduction targets after the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, even if developing countries did not have to meet them.
Mr Rudd spent much of yesterday reassuring voters that if elected he would insist any new international climate change agreement would require countries such as China and India to reduce their emissions.
But the Prime Minister, John Howard, said Mr Rudd had done a backflip and there was now no significant difference between Labor and the Coalition on climate change negotiations.
“This was meant to be the piece de resistance between us and the Labor Party on policy,” Mr Howard said. “It’s the most unbelievable capitulation this election campaign so far.”
The Prime Minister did a street walk in Gisborne, outside Melbourne, in the Liberal seat of McEwen, his first “meet the people” event in the campaign.
Mr Rudd said the new target would reverse the decline in renewable energy under the Howard Government and “create a new vibrant, clean, green energy industry in Australia”.
Electricity wholesalers would have to source 60,000 gigawatt hours, or 20 per cent of projected annual demand, from renewable sources by 2020.
This is in line with targets set by European and US state governments and more stringent than the 15 per cent “clean” energy target announced by the Federal Government last month.
Labor’s target would be met entirely from renewable sources such as solar, wind, wave and geothermal or hot rock energy. The Government’s target would also include power from “clean coal”-fired power stations or nuclear reactors.
The Minister for the Environment, Malcolm Turnbull, criticised Labor’s plan, saying it would cost businesses and households $2 billion and do nothing to encourage clean coal, which could make a huge contribution to tackling climate change.
Mr Howard last night said the government would examine Labor’s policy, but he had no objections to increased use of renewable energy.
“I’m not saying it is an unacceptable or an unsuitable target … we should in this debate try and find areas of agreement,” Mr Howard said.
Renewable energy and environmental groups welcomed the target. The chief executive of the Climate Institute, John Connor, said it would help cut emissions before 2020 more than any other policy announced by the Government or the Opposition.
But the Energy Supply Association of Australia said the bulk of the target would have to be met by wind power, because solar and geothermal were not advanced enough. “That could involve building as many as 4500 wind turbines”, said its chief executive, Brad Page. The overriding principle should be reducing emissions at the least cost.
The planned trading scheme, which will set a market price for carbon emissions, was the most efficient way.
Mr Page said he hoped Labor would review the target once its review on the trading scheme and its targets by Professor Ross Garnaut was complete.
By Mark Davis and Marian Wilkinson
with Stephanie Peatling and Phillip Coorey
31 October 2007
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