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Right in the middle of an election campaign where climate change is an issue, the Victorian Premier John Brumby announces that his state is going to become the solar capital of Australia with 5% of its power coming from solar power plants.
All this will be additional to the national 20% renewable energy target, which is expected to be dominated by wind farms. The solar plants would be subsidised through a feed-in tariff which will have station owners receiving a premium for energy generated. Power bills will go up, but marginally. The government estimates the scheme will increase household electricity bills by $5-$15 a year from 2014. At the same time, it will create billions of dollars extra for the state economy. There are also plans to develop medium-scale solar plants that could, for example, be built on shopping centre roofs.
At the same time, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced that an assembly of 150 randomly selected people will decide what we do about climate change.
This leaves a few unanswered questions. The first: where is Labor’s spine?
Also, is Brumby solar plan going to be enough? We still don’t have a carbon price and schemes like this require one.
If Brumby is right, his scheme will elevate Victoria to the position of using more solar energy than the rest of Australia under the solar flagships program.
But that raises another question. His government still needs to spell out its plans for the major power stations in the Latrobe Valley that continue to emit massive amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases, but which also provide the state’s essential electricity supply. What exactly are his government’s plans?
The other question is where this leaves other potential renewable energy sources. As Giles Parkinson writes in the Business Spectator, Brumby is playing to focus groups in the lead up to the state’s election and it ignores the opportunity for a broad renewable tariff that would include geothermal, biomass and wave energy. That would make more sense because it would create a larger funding base for the renewable energy industry.
Parkinson writes: “But that seems to be the way, in Australia – clean energy policy has been, and continues to be, a series of random initiatives. As one industry executive put it yesterday, “this is very good, but how the hell does it fit in with everything else.”
As anyone shivering through a Victorian winter would testify, it would be good to extend this initiative to other states with better solar radiation where the tariffs needn’t be so high. At the same time, it should be extended to biomass, wave, geothermal and wind power.
In one of her election addresses, Prime Minister Gilalrd has pledged to make record investments in solar and other renewable energy sources, making this probably the greenest election. We have yet to see whether those investments will come.
The solar solution is a start. But there’s a long way to go. A citizen’s assembly of 150 people picked off the street is not going to work that one out.