Science & Health

The Government's War On Wind And Solar Hurts Homes And Businesses

Opinion: Over the weekend, we learned that an Abbott government directive has banned any more investment in wind farms by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a government body that encourages investment in the renewable energy sector. Recently revealed cuts to finance for small- and medium-scale solar power, too, make it harder for individuals and households to effectively lower their reliance on fossil fuels.

Wind farm image via Shutterstock

It’s being called “a war on wind power”, although it extends further and more damagingly into solar. Whatever it is, it’s clear that the government’s offensive, which actually involves eventually abolishing the CEFC and has already included cutting the Renewable Energy Target, is making it harder for Australians to make their own moves towards green power and subsidise smaller solar installations.

On the Abbott government’s attitude to wind — the problem is, we aren’t given any rational, believable, quantifiable reason from the figureheads of the government for this policy shift other than that wind is not good to look at. The argument we get from Tony Abbott and his government’s frontbench is that power-generating wind turbines are just unlikeable in an aesthetic sense: they’re “ugly” (Abbott), “noisy” (Abbott), “utterly offensive” (Hockey), “not particularly nice to look at” (Cormann) and “visually awful” (Abbott again). If you read around, the argument is that wind power isn’t an emerging technology any more. By that token, shouldn’t the government drop its $4 billion in subsidies for the country’s coal and coal-powered energy industry?

It extends further than wind, though, into the other pillar of renewable energy in Australia — solar power. Any solar power installation generating less than 100kW? No thanks, says the government. Here’s the issue, though: the beauty of solar is that it’s incredibly scalable — as well as having swathes of land to devote to large-scale solar installations, Australia has millions of household rooftops that are perfectly pointed towards that big bright thing in the sky. Why not use them, and why not spend a bit of taxpayers’ money to encourage that?

Having driven and charged a Tesla Model S electric car for a week, I found myself wishing I had some method of charging its batteries without relying on grid power, and the majority coal- and gas-fired power plants that supply energy to my Sydney home. I could sign my household up to an accredited GreenPower supplier and “get” its energy from renewable sources, but that’s funnelling money towards those same companies who continue to drive investment in coal. To be honest, far more appealing is the idea of having my own solar panels and my own small-scale renewable energy source.

Tesla’s Powerwall, too, is another innovative concept that promises to change the way that we consume and demand power. Having a battery in your home for your lights and appliances to run off smooths out demand to a constant level throughout peak and offpeak periods, and combined with solar has the potential to reduce a household’s demand on grid power substantially. Less money to be spent on poles and wires and long-distance energy transmission from existing dirty energy sources. Wouldn’t it be great to hear about a subsidy for homes and businesses to install battery energy storage and reduce the strain on power generation during peak usage?

A fortnight ago, the CEFC announced it would use $100 million in financing for Origin Energy to install solar panels on the rooftops of businesses and households, using their premises, but retaining ownership of the utilities — then selling the power generated on to those houses and businesses that signed up to the program. Sure, this investment does drive the increased uptake of solar power, but it keeps the infrastructure in the hands of big businesses — and leaves the opportunity open for those businesses to raise prices on consumers in the future.

The government expects large-scale solar to play a big part in Australia’s renewable energy sector over the next five years. But it doesn’t want you producing your own power, and it just doesn’t like the look of wind farms. And all the while, coal and gas plants around the country continue to burn. [SMH / The Guardian / The Australian]

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