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Liberal tilts at expensive windmills

A star business recruit to the Liberal Party is trying to convince the Coalition to reduce its support for green power projects, particularly wind farms that are deeply unpopular with farmers in his rural electorate.

Angus Taylor, a Liberal candidate for the seat of Hume in NSW and a Rhodes Scholar who works at management consulting firm Port Jackson Partners, has distributed a policy paper within the party that argues the renewable energy target (RET) should be overhauled.

He argues the scheme, which has prompted a surge in wind energy development, is an inefficient way to reduce greenhouse gases because it costs $75 a tonne to avoid the ­creation of carbon compared with other cheaper options.

The Coalition’s policy is to keep the RET, which requires power ­companies to buy 20 per cent of their supply from renew­able generators by 2020. The Coalition plans to wait for a scheduled review in 2014 before proposing changes. Mr Taylor’s un­usual decision to push his stance on the RET ahead of that review highlights concerns in some parts of the Liberal Party that despite its trenchant opposition to the carbon tax, there are other parts of the government’s carbon policies that the Coalition has promised it won’t alter.

“I will cop it for that, no doubt,” he said on Monday, moments after killing a tiger snake with a shovel on his property.

“We can be committed to keeping the RET and also committed to restructuring the RET. The RET is an expensive way of reducing emissions, and a restructuring of the RET that takes some of that tension away will save money and achieve exactly the same emissions reductions.”

Regional coalition MPs push for wind farms curb

Mr Taylor is standing for the safe Liberal-held seat of Hume around the city of Goulburn in country NSW at the September election.

His proposal is part of a broader push from regional Coalition MPs to clamp down on wind farms.

The Coalition will use a bill sponsored by crossbench senators Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, due before the Senate this week, to seek a national study into the health effects of wind farms.

If that fails, the Coalition has flagged introducing a private member’s bill in the House of Representatives, where it hopes to win the support of crossbench MPs.

One of Mr Taylor’s key suggestions would enable power companies to buy credits from offshore generators to satisfy their RET obligations.

“A tonne of carbon from New Guinea is the same from a policy point of view. Frankly, it doesn’t matter – what matters is whether you are going to get the abatement,” he said.

“The idea that Australia offers the cheapest sources of abatement is bizarre. There are many cheaper sources of abatement in other countries. We would be mad not to be looking at that as part of a restructure of the RET.”

Another option would be to broaden the RET to incorporate gas which, although using a fossil fuel, would provide cheaper carbon abatement than replacing coal with wind power, he said.

Cheaper power supply options

“The question we have got to ask in restructuring the RET is: ‘How do we want to reduce our carbon emissions?’,” he said.

The Coalition’s taxpayer-funded direct action scheme could be used to help bankroll cheaper power supply options, such as gas.

Mr Taylor said restructuring the RET could save typical households up to $320 a year by 2020.

He said a predicted surge in gas prices would have only a small effect on his forecasts.

The combined estimated increase of the RET by the Climate Change Authority and the NSW price regulator up to 2020 is a maximum of $164.

Mr Taylor said the cost of the RET was likely to rise significantly due to a lack of renewable energy projects. This was particularly the case for wind farms struggling with state planning laws. He said wholesale removal of the RET could pose a sovereign risk to companies.

New research from AGL shows power prices could be 10 per cent lower in 2020 in real terms due to deregulation of retail prices and smart meters.

Mr Taylor said the RET combined with the carbon price had stifled the transition to cheaper gas fuelled baseload power stations.

“Of course it’s not happening… you have got a price for abating carbon through renewables that is higher than abating through the carbon price through gas or some other means,” he said.

Split on coalition support for RET

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the Coalition’s position hadn’t changed.

“I respect the work and its intentions. We will be abolishing the carbon tax . . . we are committed to the next review of the RET in 2014 and to the 20 per cent target.”

Opposition energy spokesman Ian Macfarlane said: “We support the RET. I am not sure Angus does.”

Two Liberal MPs with many wind farm developments in their electorates, South Australian Rowan Ramsey and Victorian Dan Tehan, backed the party’s official position.

A spokesperson for federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet accused the Coalition of “tissue-paper thin support” for renewable energy and producing inefficient duplicate regulation of wind farms at state and federal level.

“Clearly, there are elements within the Coalition that want to undermine renewable energy investment and the renewable energy target by whatever means possible,” he said.

Both Mr Ramsey and Mr Tehan told The Australian Financial Review that the official timetable for the review was fine but they wanted greater urgency on the inquiry into health.

Mr Hunt said he believed this was the bigger issue in regional areas.

“We have had quite a few representations from a range of people in relation to the issue of wind noise. I don’t know the answer but we do have a duty of care to investigate it.”

Mr Macfarlane said if the Senate amendments failed then the Coalition would seek to get the inquiry legislated through a private in the House of Representatives.

Noise monitoring information to be made public

“It really is about establishing the facts around wind farm noise and providing some real time monitoring.”

Mr Macfarlane acknowledged the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) was already working on the issue. But he said the Coalition’s proposal would be more detailed with noise monitoring information made public in a similar way to airports.

“I’m open minded. I have seen nothing that indicates to me that they cause a health impact but at the same time the level of complaints and the style of the complaints are more than just the radical edge but actually common sense people says to me that we need to have a look at it,” he said.

“You talk to people like Dan Tehan who are pretty level headed blokes and people in his electorate who are pretty salt of earth and they say 5 km from the windfarm the walls are just vibrating,” he said.Current Hume Liberal MP Alby Schultz is one of those who has pushed hard for the inquiry.Mr Combet’s spokesman said the government was confident that existing work by the NHMRC and state planning systems adequately dealt with concerns, he said.

Pacific Hydro executive manager corporate affairs Andrew Richards said Mr Taylor’s estimates on the costs of the RET were inflated.

“The history shows that every time a target has been placed in front of the renewable energy industry it has been met before time and at lower cost than what was anticipated,” he said.

He also said renewable energy provided a hedge against volatile international fuel prices which were likely to have a far greater impact on local energy prices than green energy schemes.