By Lenore Taylor
17 February 2014
(theguardian.com) – The Abbott government has appointed a self-professed climate sceptic to head an “extensive” review of the renewable energy target.
Dick Warburton, a veteran industrialist and current chairman of the Westfield Retail Trust, described his views on climate science in a 2011 interview on ABC.
“Well I am a sceptic. I’ve never moved away from that. I’ve always believed sceptical,’’ he said. “But a sceptic is a different person than a denier. I say the science is not settled. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’ve never said it’s wrong, but I don’t believe it’s settled.”
Among those joining Warburton on the long-promised review is Dr Brian Fisher, former head of the agricultural research bureau ABARES and a leading climate change modeller who repeatedly warned about the potential economic impacts of the carbon tax before it was legislated.
As flagged by the prime minister, Tony Abbott, the review’s terms of reference focus heavily on the impact of the RET on power prices, but also include the need for investment certainty for the renewables industry.
It is charged with looking at “the economic, environmental and social impacts of the RET scheme, in particular the impacts on electricity prices, energy markets, the renewable energy sector, the manufacturing sector and Australian households” and with assessing how it fits with the government’s aim of “reducing business costs”.
The target – introduced by the Howard government and expanded by the Rudd government – now requires that 45,000 gigawatt hours of energy be sourced from renewables by 2020.
At the time it was enacted that represented 20% of the market, but due to falling electricity demand, it will now be well over 20% – which has prompted calls for the target date be pushed out or the target reduced, including a plan privately floated by the environment minister, Greg Hunt, for it to become a 25% by 2025 target.
But others, including the government’s top business adviser, Maurice Newman, want the RET scrapped altogether.
Newman, the former chairman of the ABC and the ASX, has said persisting with government subsidies for renewable energy represented a “crime against the people” because higher energy costs hit poorer households the hardest and there was no longer any logical reason to have them.
Asked whether scrapping the RET was an option for the government, the industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, said the review would be “extensive, it is not a desktop audit … it will be a complete review, and when the review comes back we’ll have a better idea of where it sits going forward.” He said the review would unpick the costs of the RET from other schemes imposed by state governments. [more]