Australia could delay its mandated target for renewable energy use in a compromise option being considered by the Abbott government as it faces growing internal demands to scrap the policy completely.
The environment minister, Greg Hunt, has canvassed compromise options with industry including changing the existing target that 20% of energy come from renewable sources by 2020, to one requiring 25% from renewable sources by 2025.
The government is finalising plans for a review of the target, which it promised would be retained to underpin the business case for wind farms and other forms of renewable power after the carbon tax was scrapped.
Hunt and the responsible minister, resources minister Ian Macfarlane, are understood to be determined to keep the election promise to keep the RET, but several MPs are pushing that it be scrapped altogether.
The prime minister, Tony Abbott, signalled before Christmas that the target could be wound back or the scheme scrapped, saying lower power prices are the government’s primary goal and the rationale for the RET no longer exists.
And his top business adviser, Maurice Newman, who wants the RET scrapped, is now also demanding the review investigate allegations that wind turbines are operating in violation of compliance requirements, even though state and federal authorities say this is not so.
Newman and his wife have been active members of a community group campaigning for years against a wind farm near their home in the town of Crookwell, 240km south-west of Sydney, and the former chairman of the ABC and the ASX also rejects the idea that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate change.
The anti-wind farm lobby claims turbines pose a health risk to nearby residents, push up energy prices, harm property values and operate “fraudulently” and “illegally”.
The “illegal” argument has been regularly advanced in parliament by the DLP senator John Madigan, who Newman – chairman of Abbott’s business advisory group – cited in a recent article in which he claimed that “tens of millions of dollars are being paid annually to non-compliant wind turbine operators by compliant politicians and bureaucrats”.
The claim that wind farms are “non compliant” is usually based on the fact that the Victorian government has not made a final determination on Acciona’s Waubra wind farm compliance with noise regulations, despite having had the company’s compliance report since 2010. The anti-wind campaigners say that because the compliance report has not been formally signed off, the wind farm is “illegal” and therefore engaged in a “fraud” and improperly receiving renewable energy certificates under the federal subsidy scheme.
But the Victorian government has written to Madigan and others who make the claims stating it has never said the wind farms are “non compliant” and asking them to correct the record.
“The minister for planning has not determined whether the wind farm is or is not compliant
with the relevant planning permit. The minister or the department have never stated that the
Waubra wind farm Is not compliant with the current planning permit. It cannot be assumed or inferred from the departmental advice that Waubra wind farm is not compliant with the relevant planning permit and I seek your co-operation in correcting the public record,” the then departmental secretary Andrew Tongue said.
And the federal government’s Clean Energy Regulator, which issues the renewable energy certificates, also insists the company is receiving them legally.
“The Waubra wind farm was assessed and found to be compliant with the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 at the time its accreditation was granted,” the CER said in a statement.
“…Having sought and received information from multiple sources, the Clean Energy Regulator has no reason to believe that the declaration(s) have been false or misleading or that there are any grounds on which to suspend the Waubra wind farm’s accreditation under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000.”
The Coalition is also moving to implement its election promise to hold another review into the alleged health impact of turbines from the National Health and Medical Research Council, which three years ago found that they posed no health risks, but advocated ongoing studies.
Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council said on Wednesday his organisation was planning to compile a report on the health impacts of a range of energy systems, including wind and solar and coal, oil and gas.
Steffen said Denmark had imposed a 1km buffer between residences and wind generators. “They’ve had the longest history of any country I know of with modern wind generators and I don’t think they’ve seen any health problems with the precautions and buffer zones that they’ve instituted.”
He argued that allowing the climate to become increasingly destabilised posed a greater risk than wind farms, saying extreme heat caused “far more severe health risks … on our body, on our physiology, on our work productivity, on eco-systems, on infrastructure”.
Newman is among a group of country landholders who have threatened to sue a neighbouring farmer for “substantial damages” if their health or property values are harmed by his agreement to allow wind turbines to built on his property.
The 20% renewable energy target requires 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020. Due to falling electricity demand, that amount will represent well over 20% by 2020, adding to calls that the target date be pushed out or the target reduced.
with Daniel Hirst
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