Tom Swann says ACT government will have last laugh at climate sceptics

Tom Swann says ACT government will have last laugh at climate sceptics

They were dark days for the renewable energy sector when Joe Hockey railed against wind turbines and Tony Abbott championed coal.

But researcher and campaigner Tom Swann says whether the former treasurer or prime minister or anyone else in Federal Parliament likes it or not, the Australian Parliament House will soon be 100 per cent renewably powered.

Tom Swann says Canberra's leading position on renewables is the envy of the rest of the country.

Tom Swann says Canberra's leading position on renewables is the envy of the rest of the country.Credit:Jay Cronan

This is one of the implications of the ACT government's clean energy policies, the most ambitious in Australia, which Mr Swann will explain at the Progressive Canberra Summit on Saturday morning, at a gathering of people discussing energy, housing, social justice and sustainability in this city and globally.

Mr Swann will point out the ACT government plans to completely decarbonise the territory's electricity system and its moves to decarbonise its investments, by starting to divest from fossil fuels.


He will ask a group of people how can Canberra make the most of this leadership? "How do we ensure this transition engages all of Canberra, using local energy and expertise and providing options to those on lower incomes?" Mr Swann said.

He will present research from public policy think tank Australian Institute which shows three in four Canberrans surveyed (78 per cent) support the 100 per cent renewables target, a majority strongly supporting it. The polling also found an interesting national perspective.

"Canberra's leading position on renewables is the envy of the rest of the country," Mr Swann said.

The research is based on two polls in September, one by ReachTEL of 731 residents in Fraser electorate and 717 residents in Canberra electorate, while a separate poll by Research Now surveyed 1407 people across Australia.

Three in four Canberrans (75 per cent) said they were willing to pay more on their bills to achieve the 100 per cent renewables target and almost two in three (62 per cent) said they would be willing to pay at least $5 per week more on household electricity.

Almost three in four Australians from outside of Canberra (72 per cent) said they wanted a similar policy in their own state.

More than half of Canberrans (54 per cent) support the ACT government divesting from fossil fuels, while around one in five oppose (19 per cent).

Mr Swann said the ACT government policies were setting a precedent, and had strong support from Canberrans.

"The rest of the country wants to see this sort of leadership in their own state," he said.

Similarly, while fossil fuel divestment had a symbolic moral dimension, this signal, as with the ACT's 100 per cent renewables target, could be an important and powerful precedent for other jurisdictions in Australia.

In a discussion paper accompanying the research, Mr Swann says states have long had their own renewables policies. "However, when the federal government was taking steps towards pricing carbon, backed up by the federal Renewable Energy Target (RET), state and territory governments retreated, leaving emissions reduction and renewables policy to the federal government.

"With the repeal of the carbon price and the lowering of the RET, and growing political popularity of renewables, some state governments are newly reconsidering local renewables policy," Mr Swann says. "However, the level of ambition in other states, measured in terms of the percentage target, is far lower than in the ACT."

For example Queensland has recently committed to a 50 per cent renewable target by 2030.

Victoria is reviewing its climate and renewables target, setting a 20 per cent renewables target by 2020 as its baseline for this review.

NSW does not have its own renewables target.

South Australia has a 50 per cent renewables target by 2025.

"Much of the considerable existing renewable generation in South Australia is driven by the national Renewable Energy Target. The ACT's 90 per cent target is unconditional on federal policy," Mr Swann says in the discussion paper.

John Thistleton is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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