RET review ideologically driven: Xenophon
The Independent Senator won't support winding back the renewable energy target, but says he's negotiating with the government to improve direct action.PT6M39S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3ejwv 620 349 August 29, 2014
The climate sceptic and businessman chosen by the Abbott government to lead its review of the renewable energy target has denied his personal views have had any influence on the panel's report, which recommends that the scheme be dramatically cut back.
Dick Warburton, the chairman of the review panel and a former chairman of oil company Caltex, insisted on Friday that he had brought "a completely open mind" to the task.
Dick Warburton denies his personal view on climate change coloured his recommendation to slash the renewable energy target. Photo: Rob Homer
"My thoughts are well known to many people, but that had no bearing on this report whatsoever," he told ABC radio.
"We looked into this with a completely open mind. We consulted with over 200 people, stakeholders, governments, right across the country, we had 800 to 900 submissions which we reviewed, we took all of that into account when we came to our report. It had nothing to do with my other thoughts in that area."
Mr Warburton also accused the renewable energy sector of "extreme exaggeration" about the loss of jobs and small businesses if the government adopted the report's recommendations.
He said the panel had not taken into account the political consequences of its recommendations, such as a voter backlash over a possible scaling back of subsidies for rooftop solar panels.
"We leave the political side of it to the parliamentarians," he said.
Mr Warburton said he was confident the Abbott government's emissions reduction fund as part of its direct action policy would reduce emissions more cheaply than the $22 billion cost of the renewable energy scheme, despite the government not yet releasing the costs of its policy.
"I say, "Why on earth would we spend $22 billion on a scheme that's far more expensive than other ways of reducing emissions?' " he said.
Mr Warburton admitted that, according to the panel's modelling, if its recommendations were adopted, the value of existing coal-fired power generators would increase by $9.1 billion, principally because wholesale electricity prices would rise.
But he said power prices for consumers would be "about the same in the medium to long term".
He said consumers would benefit from the removal of subsidies for renewable energy generation.
"You can't put large cross subsidies into the retailers without them passing it on to the consumers," he said.
Clean energy industry leaders said the findings of the review represented the "worst case scenario" and would cost thousands of jobs and more than $10 billion in investment if the government adopted its recommendations.
Clean Energy Council acting chief executive Kane Thornton said the proposals would "shut down the future of the industry" in Australia.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt – who favours keeping the target, but faces opposition in cabinet – said the government was considering the report and that he was "very, very mindful" of its election commitment to maintain it.
But Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler said the review paved the way for Mr Abbott to break another election promise.
He said it was a political document written by "climate change deniers", not an independent review.
The panel recommended two options for Australia's renewable energy target, which is currently set at 41,000 gigawatt hours of electricity from large-scale renewable energy by 2020 - now equivalent to about 27 per cent of expected generation.
Under the first option, the scheme would be closed to new investment beyond those under construction or winning full financial commitment within a month of the change. This scenario would slash the target to about 15 per cent.
Under the second option, the target would be set at 20 per cent. The target would be reset each year and new renewable energy power stations be given approval only if electricity demand increased. The target was one of the few climate change-related measures to enjoy bipartisan support before last year's election.
After the election the government bypassed a review by the Climate Change Authority and commissioned a panel selected by the Prime Minister's office.
Mr Hunt favours the 20 per cent scenario, which he views as a compromise to avoid closing the scheme to new investors. But Mr Abbott is understood to favour the tougher option.
Any change proposed by the government will set the scene for another parliamentary fight, with Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party all opposed.
Analysis conducted for the report found coal-fired power stations would be the biggest beneficiaries of a cut in the target. The review acknowledged that the scheme had lowered wholesale electricity prices and that its impact on household bills over time would be "relatively small".
But the panel found the cost for emissions-intensive companies was not justifiable, and called on the government to find lower cost alternatives to cut carbon emissions.
The Greens said it was no surprise that a review led by a climate sceptic had "trashed" the target.
Greens leader Christine Milne said both options put forward would destroy the renewable energy sector.
"I'm glad this dangerous and ignorant report is finally public so everyone can see it for the climate denier drivel it is," she said.
It is expected to be at least a fortnight before the government responds.