Last week's announcement by the New South Wales Government confirms what most people in NSW already know. Big polluters occupy the front seats, while the renewable industry has to travel in the boot.
The announced “net” solar feed-in tariff scheme displays many of the hallmarks of similar unsuccessful schemes. It doesn't pay a premium for the full amount of energy produced as a “gross” scheme would, it doesn't cover a range of technologies and it’s only available for households. Gross feed-in tariffs are responsible for driving solar investment in Germany and Spain, creating tens of thousands of new jobs. A good feed-in tariff would rapidly bring small-scale cogeneration, wave and geothermal technologies to commercialisation.
In justifying why a net scheme was chosen, NSW Energy Minister Ian MacDonald says he is ensuring that additional energy costs are not passed onto low-income families. Err, that would be the same families who will be paying an extra $100 a year to strengthen energy infrastructure for coal-fired power stations. And, like his counterpart in Victoria, there is no mention of how renewable energy actually reduces wholesale costs, and reduces the need to spend on energy infrastructure.
Low-income families could easily have been rebated any additional costs, and the entire community would have benefited from a thriving renewable energy industry - with all of its positive impacts.
Ultimately though, feed-in tariffs are just one of the many boundless options that the NSW Government has for creating clean energy, reducing overall demand and using energy more wisely. If it chose to. Instead, everywhere you turn, the NSW Government is doing all it can to keep the existing energy infrastructure operating.
In the last few weeks, it has announced $200 million so that Eraring Energy can belch out an additional 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution a year. A small entry in the budget of $20 million subsidises coal companies at the fringes of the coalfields to get their product to market. And communities near Dubbo, at Cobbora, are alarmed at the secretive dealings to secure land for a new coal mine to keep power stations running for decades to come.
The farming community, too, is increasingly agitated at the relentless advance of the mining industry into prime agricultural land. Farmers at Caroona are maintaining a yearlong blockade to keep BHP out of a neighbour’s farm, because NSW planning laws essentially disregard environmental or social concerns. The only instance of a new mine being rejected was subsequently approved after the NSW Parliament overturned an Environment Court decision.
The NSW Labor Party, like its national cousin, is used to kowtowing to existing industries like coal mines, aluminium smelters and electricity producers, leaving the “tough” decisions to some future generation. Short-term profit motives and salary bonus incentives are delivering bad climate policy across the country. People are paying, and will continue to pay, the price as climate change wreaks havoc on communities.
There are no technical barriers to rolling out enormous quantities of safe, clean, renewable energy. The scientific arguments to act urgently don't get any stronger. As humans we have a vast capacity to find new and innovative ways to resolve existing barriers to move to a zero-emission economy. We need a lot more “can do” attitude, rather than the tired old “why we can't” mantra.
If there is a politician in the NSW Labor Party who wants to bring about a rapid transition to a renewable energy economy, please stand up.
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