Senators opposed to wind energy are set to establish yet another inquiry into its alleged effects on power prices, human health and wildlife – but the government is insisting they have to abolish an existing inquiry to set it up.
On the list of inquiries that could go is an investigation of the Abbott government’s budget cuts or the Palmer United party-instigated inquiry into “Queensland government administration”.
The new inquiry – the latest in a long list of investigations into renewable energy and wind power – is proposed by crossbench senators David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day and Liberal Chris Back, all of whom have argued for the abolition of the renewable energy target, which underpins wind energy in Australia.
It is also supported by Palmer United party senator-in-exile, Jacqui Lambie, despite the Palmer United party’s strong support for renewable energy and the renewable energy target, and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, who argues wind energy is crowding out other forms of renewable power. It is also backed by Motoring Enthusiast senator Ricky Muir. This gives it enough votes to pass.
Lambie is voting against all government bills because she is angry at the below-inflation pay deal for the defence forces, but she appears to be moving further away from the Palmer United party – removing its logo from her website and having no contact with any of her fellow PUP senators.
The proposed committee will look at a long list of arguments regularly used by opponents of wind energy – including that it drives up power prices (effectively making this yet another inquiry into the RET), that it might have health consequences and that wind turbines pose a danger to birds and planes fighting fires or spraying crops.
A spokesman for Leyonhjelm confirmed a vote to set up the committee had been deferred until Monday because the government had said there could only be four Senate select committees, which meant an existing one would need to be abolished to make room for the new investigation.
As well as the inquiry into “Queensland administration” and the budget cuts, existing Senate select committees include an inquiry into health policy and administration and one into the national broadband network.
Leyonhjelm’s spokesman said the decision about which committee would be axed was “still being negotiated”.
Xenophon said he saw a “real distinction between the efficiency of solar compared with wind” and believed there was a “genuine concern the government hasn’t followed through on promises to do independent research” on the alleged health effects of windfarms.
Muir said: “I am supportive of the establishment of a select committee on wind turbines. I am a keen supporter of renewable energy, however, there are a lot of questions and concerns and claims from people living within the vicinity of windfarms. The establishment of the committee is a good way to get some clarity surrounding these claims.”
The idea that the RET is significantly pushing up prices has now been challenged by several sets of modelling.
ACIL Allen modelling done for the government’s own review shows the current RET target will increase the average household bill by an average of $54 a year between now and 2020, but will reduce bills by a similar annual amount over the following decade compared with what they would be if the RET were repealed. That modelling used assumptions highly unfavourable to renewable energy, including that coal and gas prices would remain almost unchanged until 2040.
Separate modelling for the Clean Energy Council by Roam Consulting – with different assumptions about gas prices – found that bills would be $50 a year lower by 2020 if the RET were retained.
Another modelling exercise, commissioned by three business groups from Deloitte, found household bills would rise by at most about $50 a year.
But the new committee will still look at the effect of wind power on household power prices.
While the PUP block stayed in place, the government did not have the numbers to change the RET, but Lambie has said she is worried about how it will affect her home state of Tasmania.
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