Only 17.7% of respondents in polling commissioned by GetUp believe renewable energy is the primary culprit
Australian voters have not been swayed by a campaign attempting to blame rising power prices on renewable energy, according to new polling commissioned by GetUp.
Conservative media, as well as the federal government, have been attacking renewable energy, blaming it for rising power bills as well as blackouts that were caused by extreme weather.
The federal minister for energy and the environment, Josh Frydenberg, wrote in the Australian Financial Review on Thursday: “The position has become a lot more complicated as the Labor states and territories pursue their own higher renewable energy targets, which are pushing electricity prices up, distorting market outcomes and undermining energy security.”
The comments mirrored those made by other members of the Coalition government, including the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
The campaign continued despite experts pointing out electricity price rises in South Australia mostly occurred due to rising gas prices, as well the limited number of generators with significant market power that were gaming the system.
But a nationally representative poll of 2,126 people, conducted by ReachTel and commissioned by GetUp, has shown voters haven’t been convinced that renewables are to blame for the price rises and most agreed price increases were caused by privatisation and a lack of competition.
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Respondents were asked which of the following options they believed were most responsible for rising power prices:
Privatisation and the lack of competition between the big energy companies, or
Only 17.7% of respondents said they thought renewables were mostly responsible, while 58% said privatisation and lack of competition were to blame; 24.2% of respondents said they were “undecided”.
“This poll shows that most Australians understand our energy system better than our national government,” said Miriam Lyons from GetUp. “They think that privatisation and the lack of competition between big energy companies is driving up their power bills – not renewable energy. And they’re right.
“The price rises we’ve been seeing started long before states adopted renewable energy targets.
“If you break down the average customer’s bill into the costs of generating, distributing and retailing the electricity and then look at which parts of that bill have gone up over the past 10 or so years, it becomes bleedingly obvious that renewables are not to blame.”
Even among respondents who identified as Liberal voters, just 29.3% blamed renewables for rising bills, with 38.1% of Liberal voters blaming privatisation and lack of competition.
Among Labor voters, just 6.1% blamed renewables, while 74.2% blamed privatisation and lack of competition. Of self-identified Greens voters, 5.8% blamed renewables, with 82% blaming market problems.
“We were promised that by sprinkling the magic fairy dust of the free market over our power supply, ordinary Australians would get the benefits of competition and low prices,” Lyons said. “Instead we’ve seen the opposite.”
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Dylan McConnell from the Melbourne Energy Institute at Melbourne University said the connection between policies like the renewable energy target and energy prices was “not straightforward at all”.
But he said: “The biggest driver of electricity price increases over the years has, with out a doubt, been the poles and wires – increases in distribution and transmission network costs.”
McConnell also pointed to the Abbott government’s review of the federal renewable energy target, which found it would push the retail cost of electricity down.
Bruce Mountain, an energy economist at the consultancy CME, said increased amounts of renewable energy production could stop fossil fuel generators exploiting market power and produce lower prices for consumers.
“Wholesale market prices often rise significantly above the production costs of fossil fuel generation, when renewable generation is not available,” Mountain said.
“Policy makers might reflect on what this says about the competitiveness of wholesale markets and how the prospects for lower prices for consumers might be improved with more, not less, renewable production.”
The Coalition government has been attacking state-based renewable energy targets, with Frydenberg regularly linking them to rises in bills and poor energy security.
The issue came to a head in 2016 with large price spikes in South Australia, as well as a statewide blackout.
Writing in the AFR this week, Frydenberg repeated these arguments. “The jury is in on Jay Weatherill’s “big experiment” with South Australia having the highest electricity prices in the national electricity market while at the same time being the only jurisdiction that has had a statewide blackout.”
The statement was made despite almost all of South Australia’s renewables being a result of federal renewable energy targets, which were instituted by the Howard government, and the blackout being caused by a freak storm that downed major power lines.