Once again a WA by election is poised to change the direction of our nation as the politics of renewable energy in WA suddenly become very interesting.
Solar energy is emerging as a big issue in Canning, with the Solar Council leafleting the entire electorate pointing out that Abbott's war on renewable energy is increasing household power costs. The electorate reportedly has the highest uptake of solar energy of any electorate in the nation demonstrating that solar uptake is being led not by environmentalists, but by suburban families who are facing pressure from rising energy costs
The Solar Council leaflet states: “Installing solar helps Western Australians cut a typical power bill by up to 65%. The federal government is targeting solar by slashing the renewable energy target. We will support any political party with a good solar policy.”
It advocates a vote against the Liberals and for either Labor, the Greens or the Palmer United party.
Now all of a sudden we have Mike Nahan, WA Liberal Minister for Energy talking up solar like there is no tomorrow (e.g.. see here and here). Nahan is even saying that coal and gas generation capacity has to be closed to make room for cheaper solar capacity.
This 180-degree about face comes after Nahan and the Barnett Government have spent over a billion dollars of WA taxpayers money on new and upgraded fossil fuel capacity, against the outcry of environmental groups who have been saying for years that these facilities would be expensive, polluting stranded assets.
To get a sense of where the governments thinking on energy policy has been, just one year ago a discussion paper on WA’s energy market released by the WA Government contained no mention of solar. Instead, it canvassed importing coal from Indonesia.
Even more recently, the 2015/16 State Budget revealed that nearly $170m will be spent on maintenance and refurbishment of WA’s oldest and most polluting coal fired power stations including Muja and Collie.
Now, just three months later Nahan says that solar energy could provide all of the state’s daytime energy needs, and we will probably need to retire those coal assets.
Somehow the timing of this about-face seems like more than coincidence.
But there's more.
We have been reliably informed that the WA National Party adopted a position of supporting 50% renewable energy by 2030 at their recent State Conference in Kalgoorlie - the same target that federal Labor just endorsed.
One thing is certain - Abbott's war on renewable energy is fast becoming the malodorous ideological residue of a redundant politics.
This politics is built on fear of the future and fear of change, even at the expense of budget bottom line, household energy prices and and the health of the economy.
The sooner it is put to the test in the electorate the better.