Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler has been unable to give an assurance that households will not pay more for electricity as a result of Labor’s target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
Asked repeatedly on ABC radio whether he could give the assurance, Mr Butler said Labor’s priority was replacing the three quarters of the electricity fleet which is already operating beyond its design life.
“Even without renewable energy, without the climate change imperative we have, Australia now needs to think about replacing all those generators that were built in the 1960s and the 1970s,” he said.
“Now Matt Canavan, the resources minister, and some others in the government, have said that they would like to replace those generators with new coal-fired generators.
“First of all, we think that’s going to be a more expensive option, and that’s borne out in all the studies that show that solar and wind power increasingly is going to be the cheapest option, but also if we don’t look at around a 50 per cent renewable fleet by 2030, then we will simply not be able to achieve the commitments we made to the rest of the world and to future generations at the Paris conference to start reducing our carbon pollution levels,” Mr Butler said.
Pressed again on whether he could give an assurance that Labor’s policy would not result in higher prices, Mr Butler said that “study after study” had shown that over the coming 10 to 15 years, solar and wind power would be the cheapest option available to countries wishing to replace existing fleet.
Mr Butler seized on divisions within the Coalition over energy policy following Tony Abbott’s calls over the weekend for the government to dump its renewable energy target of 23 per cent renewable electricity by 2020.
“We saw Josh Frydenberg in December himself be slapped down by the Prime Minister because of some mowings from Tony Abbott and others in the hard right of the Liberal Party over a very important element of electricity policy, which was the emissions intensity scheme that was the emissions intensity scheme that was being considered by energy ministers at the time,” Mr Butler said.
“This was a reform that was supported by the energy markets commission, by the chief scientist, by the state governments, and very reasonably I think, Josh Frydenberg said that the federal government would consider it as well, but after only a couple of rumblings from Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi, Malcolm Turnbull overrode his own energy minister, really caved to the hard right of the Liberal Party in a way that the energy markets commission says will push up power bills by about $15 billion, so frankly we’d like to see Malcolm Turnbull actually say something about this.”
Mr Butler disputed the impact of renewable quotas on energy prices, saying the review panel, headed by businessman Richard Warburton, which Tony Abbott put in place in 2014 had found that the renewable energy target actually put downward pressure on wholesale power prices, and concluded that to remove the renewable energy target would see power prices go up rather than come down.
“Frankly Tony Abbott tried this in 2014, and his own hand-picked panel said that he was simply wrong,” Mr Butler said.
He said South Australia’s energy price spikes were the result of skyrocketing gas prices and not the state Labor government’s renewable energy policy.
“One price spike over the course of summer cannot be laid at the feet of renewable energy,” Mr Butler said.
“We’ve seen price spikes over the last six months happen in every other state, including Queensland, which has about four per cent renewable energy compared to South Australia’s 40 per cent, so I think there needs to be a bit of honesty about what’s happening in the energy industry here.”