“How can Shadow Minister for Renewables David Southwick continue to hold his title while opposing investment in wind and solar?” asked Friends of the Earth renewables campaigner Pat Simons after the Victorian Liberals declared they would abolish the state renewable energy target if elected.
Protesters gathered outside his Caulfield offices on February 14 with a banner reading “Shadow Minister against renewables” and also outside state Opposition leader Matthew Guy's office in Bulleen.
The protests were called after Guy announced on February 13 that if elected, his government would scrap the Victorian renewable energy target, which is 25% of the state’s electricity by 2020 and 40% by 2025. Other state Liberal politicians have followed suit, with South Australian Opposition leader Steven Marshall promising to scrap that state’s 2025 target for 50% renewable energy.
Victorian energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said, “Guy’s plan will kill thousands of jobs, increase electricity prices and send emissions soaring. He’s just shown every Victorian he’s ‘Malcolm’s Guy’, no matter how many jobs it costs.”
Southwick's appointment as shadow minister for renewables was seen by environmentalists as a positive for the renewable industry in Victoria. However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has blamed renewable energy for all manner of problems in the energy grid in South Australia since mid-2016.
Most recently, on February 8 the Australian Energy Market Operator triggered rolling blackouts to deal with peak electricity demand in South Australia, instead of calling on a gas-fuelled power station to supply extra electricity to cover the peak load.
The state’s high levels of renewable energy were once again blamed in commentary by Turnbull.
“Turnbull can’t keep using renewables as a scapegoat — over the weekend New South Wales, one of the most coal-dependent states in the world, came very close to a blackout,” D’Ambrosio said.
Environmentalists are alarmed at the rhetoric from federal and state Liberal politicians. “Almost daily, members of the federal Coalition are calling for the scrapping of the national renewable energy target,” Environment Victoria campaigns manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said.
“We had hoped the Victorian Coalition would act responsibly by developing their own clean energy and environment policies, but they have embarked on a campaign to wreck the state’s renewable energy industry.”
Despite the threats, the Victorian target is already producing results. The latest project to announce the beginning of construction is Windlab's Kiata windfarm, to start within weeks in the state’s western Wimmera district.