Leading Australian scientists have rubbished claims renewable energy will kill people this winter by driving up energy prices.
Liberal backbencher and the chair of the government’s energy policy committee, Craig Kelly, has turned the heat up on the renewable energy debate after claiming solar and wind was raising power prices and keeping families from heating their homes.
People would be “frightened to turn the heater on because of the price of electricity”, Mr Kelly told ABC Radio on Thursday morning.
“People will die.”
Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner of the Climate Council, told The New Daily the suggestion was “ridiculous”.
“If Mr Kelly is worried about people’s health, he should have a look at black lung and all the health problems we have with coal,” Dr Flannery said.
“It’s ridiculous to link renewables as the sole cause of electricity price.”
He cited the Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook which noted renewables were now cheaper than coal and gas.
Iain MacGill, co-director of Energy and Environmental Markets at UNSW, said fuel poverty was a “very real issue, but blaming renewables is just wrong”.
He acknowledged some people were unable to heat their homes in winter, or cool them in summer.
“In terms of blaming renewables for driving price rises, that’s just not supported by the evidence,” Dr MacGill told The New Daily.
He said the gas market was the major contributor to rising prices.
“If you’re looking for a villain, I’d say it’s the complete failure of state and federal governments to effectively manage gas markets.
“If you’re looking for a single reason, it’s really around government failures — particularly the federal government over the last five years to create a coherent set of energy policies to provide sufficient certainty to undertake the investment we need,” Dr MacGill said.
Alan Pears AM, senior industry fellow at RMIT University, said former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “war on renewables” increased electricity prices, though there were many complex driving forces.
Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, said heatwaves — not cold conditions — were the biggest extreme weather killer in Australia.
“If Craig Kelly is concerned about the impact of extreme weather on Australians, he should be concerned about climate change,” she said.
“Heatwaves are getting worse. That’s a really big risk.”
“He’s absolutely got the facts wrong.”
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) July 13, 2017
The comments come as the government considers a recommendation from the chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, to introduce a Clean Energy Target.
Dr Finkel’s review did not blame renewables alone for rising power prices. A report by the Abbott government found renewable energy subsidies put downward pressure on prices.
Andy Vesey, CEO of AGL Energy, said evidence shows a Clean Energy Target would lower power prices.
Federal and state government energy ministers will meet on Friday to discuss plans for the future of energy policy in Australia.
Political opponents pile on
Shadow energy spokesperson Mark Butler said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should sack Mr Kelly as chair of the government’s energy policy committee.
The chair of Turnbull's energy policy committee! No wonder Govt can't deliver energy policy. https://t.co/ZfJneRGRRo
— Mark Butler MP (@Mark_Butler_MP) July 12, 2017
“This latest intervention by Mr Kelly frankly makes his position as the chair of that committee utterly untenable,” Mr Butler said.
“The Coalition instead intends to continue their four-year long campaign against renewable energy.”
Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce distanced himself from the comments on Thursday.
“Our first focus has got to be making sure that people can afford power, now I suppose that’s one of the issues that Craig was discussing,” Mr Joyce told Sky News.
“Whether I agree with the idea that it’s responsible for the deaths of people, no I don’t.”
Greens climate and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt said: “Coal kills people. Renewables save lives.
“If Craig Kelly and the Trumps in the government have their way, more people will die from bushfires, heatwaves, floods and famine as dangerous global warming accelerates.
“This latest foray isn’t unexpected, but it is certainly unfounded,” Mr Bandt said.
The New Daily has approached Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg. Dr Finkel was not available to comment.
— Andy Vesey (@AndyVesey_AGL) July 13, 2017