Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Australia's flight from renewable energy

If we think we have it bad here in Canada with our head-in-the-sand, anti-progressive Conservative government, imagine, if you will, living in Australia. There, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is on a personal mission to roll back what few advances Australia has made in renewable energy.
Australia has a general reputation as bad as Canada's for its benighted refusal to take the threat of global warming seriously and for its persistent support for fossil fuels, and it is one of the few major countries in the world with worse per capita emissions of greenhouse gases than Canada. However, recent administrations there have made some token moves to support renewable energy, including the establishment of the Australia Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) in 2012, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) in 2013. Also, back in 2001 a national renewable energy target was set to generate 20% of power from renewable sources by 2020, a relatively modest proposal for a country so naturally blessed with sun and wind. By 2014, though, just 13.5% of Australia's total power supply came from renewables (mainly from decades-old hydro electricity schemes), and dirty coal remains the mainstay of its energy program.
Since coming to power in September 2013, Tony Abbot's government has already scaled back the renewable energy target, tried unsuccessfully to axe both Arena and CEFC, unceremoniously scrapped an election commitment on rooftop solar systems, and launched a parliamentary inquiry into wind turbines (which Abbott personally seems to hate with a passion). In 2014-2015, investment in large-scale renewable projects in Australia has collapsed to about one-tenth of the previous year's (this at a time when global renewable energy investment has been booming), and an estimated 2,000 jobs in the industry have been shed in the last two years, amid an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear and recrimination. Just recently, the CEFC has been ordered to halt wind and rooftop solar investments completely, putting its very raison d'être in doubt.
Abbott is unapologetic about his mission to stop the spread of windfarms, and even to reduce the number of wind turbines in current existence. And this is despite the fact that recent polls have reported that 82% of Australians view solar energy favourably, and 67% view wind power favourably, but only 24% see the fossil fuel industry in the same good light.
It is not clear quite why Abbott has this apparent vendetta against renewable energy, but one has to suspect the powerful fossil fuel lobby of being involved somewhere along the line. Either way, we here in Canada should perhaps be grateful that our provinces are trying to take up the slack on the fight against climate change, in the absence of any leadership from our federal government, and one can only hope that something similar may happen in Australia in time.

Well, blow me down, but the relatively sensible Brits are going the same way!
In recent weeks, Conservative PM David Cameron - "I believe we've been the greenest government ever", "Solar has been a huge success story for the renewables industry", " Renewable energy is not just good for our environment but we believe it's very good business too", etc, etc - yes, THAT David Cameron - has begun dismantling the British renewables sector by scrapping subsidies for onshore wind and commercial solar (currently the two cheapest forms of clean energy), slashing the energy efficiency budget, ending the tax break for clean cars, abolishing rules on zero carbon housing, scrapping the Green Deal Finance Company, lowering taxes on polluting firms, and even introducing a tax on clean energy.
I would like to tell you that these moves by prominent Conservative politicians, as well as the fossil fuels addiction of the pusillanimous Canadian Tory government regularly reported in this blog, are just the last gasps of Conservative ideologies before they go under forever. But the reality is that this is just money talking, and the Tories listening intently.

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