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Can Peter Dutton be expected to support a proposal that aims to reduce costs and tackle the climate emergency? | Adam Morton
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Can Peter Dutton be expected to support a proposal that aims to reduce costs and tackle the climate emergency? | Adam Morton

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One crucial aspect that is often overlooked in the ongoing discussion about Australia’s potential adoption of nuclear power is the fact that, unless the members of the Labor party drastically change their stance, the concept is already futile.

John Howard and Scott Morrison knew the score on this. Unless there is bipartisan support, a nuclear industry has virtually no chance of being developed. And as things stand there is no chance of the ALP changing its position.

I am not able to reword.

From a political standpoint, it would be a potentially damaging move that could hasten the transition from the dominant parties to the Green Party and unaffiliated candidates. The fear-based tactics planned by Labor and other groups to criticize the Coalition’s push for nuclear energy would be used against both major parties.

Labor would only need to address these questions if there was proof that nuclear power was necessary to achieve near-zero emissions in Australia. However, this is not the case. According to government agencies and energy experts, renewable energy is capable of supplying over 90% of the country’s electricity demands at a significantly lower cost well before a nuclear industry could be established.

Due to the delays and increased costs experienced by nuclear projects in other western nations, it is highly optimistic to suggest otherwise. This argument supports keeping the country’s highly polluting coal plants operational for longer, while the Coalition opposes the implementation of large-scale renewable energy and waits for a seemingly improbable alternative.

An approach that hinders the climate, to put it differently.

What if we shifted our attention from a hypothetical scenario to a specific aspect of climate policy that truly warrants cross-parliamentary backing?

The Coalition’s reluctance towards solar and wind farms is well-known. Even though the Australian Energy Market Operator has presented solid evidence, Peter Dutton dismissed Labor’s goal of achieving 82% renewable energy by 2030 as an unrealistic engineering accomplishment.

However, the Coalition may present a contrasting narrative regarding residential solar energy and battery usage. In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, David Littleproud, the leader of the Nationals party, mentioned his potential support for a government program that would expedite the implementation of small-scale renewable energy systems. He also revealed talks with advocates Saul Griffith and Bruce Mountain. The aforementioned newspaper also alluded to a potential endorsement from Dutton.

The opposition leader has not yet made this publicly clear, and it’s reasonable to be sceptical that he would support any climate policy that could deliver rapid change, given the evidence to date. But it would not be particularly surprising if he did. Politicians generally back rooftop solar for a simple reason: their constituents love it.

Approximately 33% of households in Australia, which amounts to over 3.7 million homes, produce their own electricity. The proportion is even higher in South Australia, with nearly 50% of households generating their own energy in the most technologically advanced state.

Australia has implemented a solar rebate program that has received support from both political parties, despite previous changes in policies. In the past year, rooftop solar panels have contributed to 11% of the electricity in the country’s power grid.

A necessary measure is needed to increase the accessibility of solar energy for individuals who are unable to receive this rebate due to renting, living in an apartment, or financial limitations. In order for it to be effective, this measure should also assist with the adoption of household batteries, allowing consumers to power their entire homes with clean electricity at all times.

How would this possibly appear? There are a few potential options that should be taken into account.

Saul Griffith, a former energy adviser for the US government and a strong proponent of household electrification, is proposing a plan through his organization Rewiring Australia. He suggests implementing a loan program similar to the Hecs system in order to utilize Australia’s top-ranking solar energy resources and alleviate the burden of living expenses.

Accessible loans could be utilized for solar panels, batteries, and energy-efficient electric appliances, and potentially electric vehicles. These loans would be adjusted for inflation and repaid to the government upon the sale of a home. According to estimates from Rewiring Australia, these measures could potentially save households up to $5,000 annually on energy and gasoline expenses, create job opportunities, and lessen the urgency to construct a significant amount of large-scale renewable energy sources.

The cost of implementing the program outlined in Rewiring Australia’s budget proposal is estimated to be $2.8 billion spread over three years. Out of this amount, $10 million is allocated towards updating the regulations of the national electricity market to enable households with electric power to compete with those supplied by fossil fuel generators and retailers.

A separate but related proposal has been launched by the independent MP Allegra Spender, backed by fellow crossbenchers Zali Steggall, Helen Haines and David Pocock and advocates for renters, people on low incomes and clean energy businesses. Described as a “people power plan”, it calls on the government to help those locked out of solar power to get it.

The individuals responsible for this plan suggest that there are various options for its structure, but its goal should be to assist at least 500,000 households in transitioning to clean energy within the next three years. This policy will prioritize renters, those living in apartments, individuals with lower incomes, and households in regional and rural areas who are worried about the implementation of large-scale clean energy projects.

According to Spender, there are various advantages to be gained from this approach – such as cost savings, lowered pollution, and most importantly, giving a voice to individuals in rural areas who will be impacted by the changes in energy usage.

These ideas have been pitched to the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, in the lead-up to May’s federal budget, which Anthony Albanese has flagged is likely to include “think big” support for new green energy industries. If adopted, it would need to complement support for large solar and windfarms, not replace them. This alone may mean the Coalition would oppose it, given it wouldn’t fit with its political tactics.

Would any political party oppose a government policy that lowers bills, gives consumers more control over their household energy, and addresses the climate crisis?

It may be difficult to envision, given the current state of Australia’s inadequate approach to addressing climate change. It may be worthwhile to investigate further.

  • Adam Morton is the editor for climate and environment at Guardian Australia.

Source: theguardian.com