The Victorian Labor Party was re-elected to power in the State’s Saturday election this past weekend in a victory that is being described as “stunning,” “a landslide,” and a “bloodbath.” In fact, the Labor Party will return to power with more seats than have been held in over 15 years, delivering the party a strong mandate that includes important policies on climate change and renewable energy.
Just two days before the election was held, however, Australia’s national Labor Party unveiled its renewable energy election promises in advance of the national election which must be held on or before May 18, 2019. Announced by Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, the opposition party’s “Plan for More Renewable Energy and Cheaper Power” includes a ten-year investment framework that is intended to deliver certainty for industry, lower power prices, and more reliability.
As such, the past few days have signaled a potential swing away from business-as-usual policies under the current Liberal Party (which, despite its name, is not a politically liberal party at all) which prioritizes support for coal-fired power generation and extreme opposition to renewable energy sources.
Saturday’s Victorian election saw the state’s Labor Party — which already held power — enjoy a further swing of about 6%, walking away with around 60 seats in an 88-seat parliament, and a mandate that will support its policy moves for years to come. A number of stunning defeats for the Victorian Liberal Party capped off a stunning election victory, returning seats to Labor’s majority which haven’t been held in over 15 years.
While the specifics of the election victory are many and varied — notably including a rejection of the Liberal Party’s attempts to fear-monger their way into power — one of the key messages out of this election victory is support for the Labor Party’s clean energy policies.
In early November, Victoria’s Labor Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, announced that, if re-elected, the Labor Party would increase the state’s Renewable Energy Target (VRET) to 50% by 2030 in a move it hopes will create thousands of jobs, increase renewable energy in the state grid, increase investment, and drive down energy prices.
“Labor’s VRET has helped create a jobs boom and boosting it further will see even more jobs created across our state,” said D’Ambrosio. “The last Liberal Government smashed our renewable energy sector and the Liberals are promising to do it again by axing VRET if they’re given the chance.”
“Only Labor will deliver our ambitious renewable energy targets, creating new jobs and investment for the future, and driving down power prices for Victorian families and businesses.”
In addition, the Labor victory means that Victoria’s recently-launched solar homes scheme — which offers a half-price rebate on small-scale solar PV installations — will be expanded to offer interest-free loans and to include half-price battery storage and access to rooftop solar for renters.
The State election on Saturday is, unsurprisingly, also being seen as a referendum on the current state of national politics in advance of a Federal election to be held on or before May 18, 2019. While there are some Liberal MPs who were quick to dismiss the idea that the Victorian election was anything but “a state election fought on state issues” — such as Liberal MP and national treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Senate president Scott Ryan — others were less partisan in their comments.
“I sat there on polling booths and every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate, or the deposing of the prime minister,” said Victorian Liberal MP Tim Wilson, speaking to Sky News.
And the importance of issues in Victoria’s election such as religious freedom and climate change, to name a few, is further validation of the idea that the Victorian State Election is simply a prelude to the upcoming Federal election, and one that the national Liberal Party would best take heed of if they are to retain a semblance of their current power (which is slim to none, at best).
It was unsurprising, therefore, to see the national Labor Party come out with its own big-name renewable energy policy promises in advance of Victoria’s state election — and it will be further unsurprising to see the national Labor Party double-down on publicizing these new policies in the weeks and months to come.
National Labor Party leader Bill Shorten unveiled his party’s “Plan for More Renewable Energy and Cheaper Power” on the Thursday before the election, promising policies which he hopes will drive increased investment in new renewable energy generation and storage, and help to transform the country’s energy supply systems — in turn, delivering more renewable energy and cheaper power for the country’s residents. In addition to a party promise of implementing a 50% renewable energy by 2030 target, the Labor Party set out three headline promises:
- Doubling the original investment in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation
- Creating an Independent Energy Security and Modernisation Fund
- Implement a new Energy Productivity Agenda
More specifically, Labor has promised to provide an additional $10 billion in capital to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation over five years which will be used to support large-scale generation and storage projects; support the Labor Party’s Household Battery Program by providing concessional loans for the purchase of solar and battery systems; and boost investment in energy efficiency projects, commercial and community renewable energy projects, and industrial transformation.
Labor will also provide $5 billion in capital to “future-proof” the country’s energy network and will use the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated Systems Plan as a blueprint to facilitate investment in upgrades to existing interconnectors while building new interconnectors to lower prices and improve system stability; build new gas pipelines, upgrades, and extensions to unlock new gas supplies; and build transmission links to Renewable Energy zones to access new renewable energy projects across the country.
Finally, Labor will implement a suite of measures which will be intended to help Australian businesses improve their energy efficiency and cut their power bills, including providing one thousand grants of up to $20,000 to Australian manufacturers to help them reduce their energy use.
“This is a positive announcement because it offers a chance to lift Australia out of the policy quagmire the Coalition has delivered, but far more is needed,” said Andrew Bray, National Coordinator of the Australian Wind Alliance. “The Australian Energy Market Operator has found that existing state renewable energy targets and continued strong rooftop solar uptake will already drive us close to 50% renewables by 2030. Electricity is the low-hanging fruit of emissions reductions in the economy. A focus on energy efficiency is welcome but federal Labor should be aiming much higher in this sector to reduce the cost of emissions reduction throughout the economy.
“Additional funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is positive and a program of reverse auctions makes sense, especially if it focuses on dispatchable renewable energy. But why go to the trouble of instituting these programs without lifting the target beyond business as usual? We are keen to see the Clean Energy Finance Corporation continue to prioritise solid community engagement and promote innovative benefit sharing programs, such as community ownership, in new renewable energy projects.”
I reached out for comment to Lily D’Ambrosio, Tim Wilson, and Mark Butler, the Federal Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, but each declined or failed to respond.