One of the most memorable lines in the iconic Australian movie The Castle is when lawyer Denis Denuto argues in court that 'It's just the vibe of the thing'. It's what you fall back on when you've run out of facts to prove your case.
In this newspaper on Monday (17/02), the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) seemed to be taking a similar approach in its opposition to the Renewable Energy Target.
Meanwhile, other commentators including Judith Sloan in this newspaper on Wednesday (19/02) are simply ignoring crucial facts that inconveniently fail to support their argument.
The facts – from the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Queensland Competition Authority and the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Authority – include that the Renewable Energy Target adds just 3 to 5 per cent of power bills, depending on which state you are in.
That's a very small price to pay for $18 billion in new investment and 30,000 jobs.
Another fact is that, far from the Renewable Energy Target being a major reason for the closure of the Point Henry aluminium smelter as argued by some, Alcoa has a 90 per cent exemption from the policy. In 2012 that amounted to support of more than $10 million. Similar exemptions apply to many other trade-exposed users of large amounts of energy in Australia.
Furthermore, nowhere in Alcoa's explanation of its reasons for departing was the Renewable Energy Target cited.
Wilful ignorance on all these facts from ACCI and others does seem strange, given the Renewable Energy Target has generated billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs – the kinds of things that business organisations and analysts are normally pretty chuffed about.
Writing in this newspaper on Monday on behalf of ACCI, David Goodwin didn't provide any figures that actually related to the target, and the arguments he did make were more about the vibe of the thing than anything concrete.
That's interesting because until last week, ACCI representatives were still regularly making grossly inflated claims about the cost of renewable energy, and when we challenged them to justify those claims, they clammed up.
But the real problem for ACCI is that even if the Renewable Energy Target was abolished altogether, we would actually see higher electricity prices, not lower.
The reason is the already escalating cost of gas, which the Australian Industry Group estimates could be about to triple. Less renewables means more expensive gas-fired power, and that is something our manufacturers and energy-intensive businesses are particularly concerned about.
ACCI's members and the manufacturing sector are already struggling to secure contracts for gas, and burning more to make electricity will only make that problem worse.
That's what the debate over the Renewable Energy Target really boils down to: a choice over our energy and economic future. Either we keep developing clean energy sources, where the fuel is free, or we switch to controversial sources like coal seam gas that divide communities and pitch manufacturers against local and international consumers in a bidding war for the fuel.
The energy sector is at a crossroads and it needs a serious debate. We can rely on the facts, without fear or favour, or we can just accept the arguments peddled by blinkered opponents of renewable energy who are more comfortable just going with the vibe of the thing.
Deputy Chief Executive, Clean Energy Council
A version of this piece originally appeared in The Australian, 21 February 2014.