28 February, 2017
David Crowe & Sarah Martin
Courtesy of Australian
Voters have rung the alarm on the hit to household budgets from a shift to renewable power, with 45 per cent declaring they should not pay a cent more to make the change, amid a furious political fight over energy security.
A special Newspoll conducted exclusively for The Australian also finds that 26 per cent of voters are only willing to pay $10 a month at the most for solar and wind power, sending a warning shot over ambitious renewable energy targets.
The poll comes as Malcolm Turnbull escalates his attack on Bill Shorten over Labor’s “aspiration” to generate half the nation’s electricity from renewables by 2030, with the government claiming Labor policy would add $400 a year to household bills.
But the Prime Minister is being challenged internally over the government’s policy to mandate 23.5 per cent renewable energy within three years; Tony Abbott is calling for the target to be scrapped to ease cost pressures on consumers.
With all sides in dispute over the impact of renewables on electricity prices and reliability, the government had a surprise boost yesterday when the Clean Energy Finance Corporate revealed a proposal for a new coal-fired power station.
The government’s green bank, charged with investing $10 billion in energy projects, told a Senate hearing that a private company was seeking a government subsidy to build a $1.2bn, 900-megawatt coal-fired station.
However, CEFC chief executive Oliver Yates told Senate estimates the agency had not seen “significant appetite” from the private sector to finance high-efficiency, low-emissions coal generation. He also said that without major changes to CEFC’s investment mandate, the agency would be economically “challenged” by the future risk of a carbon price and unlikely to receive government support.
While Labor and the Greens believe voters want more wind and solar power to combat climate change, the Newspoll shows an overwhelming majority of voters are unwilling to pay a premium for the transition.
Asked how much more they would be willing to pay for renewables annually, 45 per cent said nothing, 26 per cent said $100 and 11 per cent said $300.
In Newspoll’s survey of 1682 voters from Thursday to Sunday, 4 per cent said they would pay $500 more annually for renewable power, 2 per cent backed a $1000 annual premium and 11 per cent were uncommitted.
Mr Turnbull claimed the Labor aspiration, which includes an emissions intensity scheme to put a price on carbon output from the electricity sector, was “utterly unrealistic” and would require a $48bn cost, based on public statements about the investment required to reach the goal.
“You see the train wreck that it produced in South Australia — that type of ideological approach to energy, the most expensive and the least reliable electricity,” the Prime Minister said.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg mocked Labor’s target during question time yesterday, contrasting differing opposition claims about whether it would need to legislate to reach its target.
Labor said last year there would be “legislation relating to the 2030 target of 50 per cent renewable energy generation” as part of its policy.
But Mr Shorten said last week the 50 per cent goal was not an extension of the existing RET: “It’s not something that we will need to legislate, because we are confident Australia will achieve it.”
Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler attacked the “misleading” government claims by pointing to the Australian Energy Market Commission conclusion that an emissions intensity scheme would save about $15bn over the next decade, compared to doing nothing to reduce emissions.
Mr Butler blamed rising power prices over the past decade on “very significant network investment in the poles and wires” across the country.
Scott Morrison dismissed Mr Abbott’s call to scrap the 23.5 per cent target, which is legislated and bipartisan. The Treasurer warned of a hit to investment from changing a policy set less than two years ago, raising sovereign risk issues.
The AEMC has warned of price rises in most parts of the country over the next two years, saying renewables and higher gas prices would contribute to this.
Australian Energy Council chief Matthew Warren said the industry was grappling with the true long-term cost of renewables.
“If you want to provide lower emissions generation, it will cost more,” he said.
The Australia Institute released a ReachTel poll yesterday showing 54.5 per cent of voters in the Queensland seat of Dawson — held by the Liberal National Party’s George Christensen — backed a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. The poll did not ask about cost.