Thursday, October 18, 2007

SPIN DOCTOR: Brown's green target

Political leaders are noted for ducking questions.

Except Bob Brown.

The Greens leader has been better-known for seriously addressing questions and avoiding spin.

Until yesterday at the National Press Club.

He was asked about his party’s target for ensuring that 15 per cent of Australia’s energy comes renewable sources by 2015.

Given that 2015 is now only eight years away and given that at present renewables supply less than 10 per cent of Australia’s energy (mainly through hydroelectricity, which is unlikley to grow in importance because it is hard to develop and we are running low on water) wasn’t he giving Australians false hope?

Instread of addressing the question...

...and discussing how Australia might possibly reach such a target so soon, Mr Brown descened into polyspeak bordering on abuse.

His answer: “Well, you can vote for John Howard. It’s people with that mindset that hold the country back. The targets that we’re putting here are targets already adopted by people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Denmark. I’m not saying to people who want more coal mines, who want more thermal power stations, who want to go nuclear, vote green. Don’t.

He wound up: “Now you might say how dare the Greens do that, you know, how dare the Greens say we shouldn’t flood the Franklin, bad for jobs, can’t do it, you’ll live with blackouts; how dare the Greens say you shouldn’t protect the Daintree forests, close sawmills, bad for business again, you know this attitude that is so predominant because the big parties are so close to the big end of town. They’re not innovators, but we are.”

“That’s what makes me excited about being an Australian leader of a political party which has got the optimism and can point to the parallels overseas and if Arnold Schwarzenegger can do it, so can we.”

But can we?

Last years Switkowski Report outlined where we are starting from. In 2004-05 hydroelectricity supplied 6.7 per cent of our energy, wind 0.6 per cent, and biomass and biogas 0.6 per cent. A total of 7.9 per cent, and most of that from a source that that couldn’t be much increased.

To get 15 per cent of our energy from renewable sources, we would need to build wind, solar and biogas plants at a very fast pace from something close to a standing start.

Australia’s Clean Energy Council is made up of the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and the Wind Energy Association.

It has put forward an easier to achieve target of 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It’s easier to achieve because the target date isn’t so soon.

On hearing of the Greens target late yesterday the Council’s chief Dominique La Fontaine expressed doubts.

“Whether or not we can achieve that, I would be confident that we could, but having just seen the policy today I would be very keen to go back to my board and say, okay – how do we feel about this, is it something that industry thinks is feasible.”

The problem is that even if the target is mandatory, as it would have to be, planning approvals for new wind farms, solar stations and biomass projects take time.

The federal government last month announced a longer-term target, 15 per cent by 2020, which would be achievable, and NSW and Victoria are in the process of introducing lesser targets for 2010.

After speaking to the Canberra Times Ms La Fontaine phoned back and said she felt the Bob Brown’s target was achievable. But the industry would need to get to work quickly.