Could Palmer United Party support for renewables save the RET?

Update: Clive Palmer has contradicted his WA PUP senate candidate Dio Wang, saying the RET should not be mandatory. It is unclear what his party’s official stance on renewables is.

Update #2: Clive Palmer, appearing on stage with climate campaigner Al Gore, has come out firmly in support of the Renewable Energy Target as it currently stands.

If any major changes are to be wrought upon the embattled federal Renewable Energy Target, they will have to go through the Senate. The Coalition government has made it intends a ‘thorough‘ review of the scheme–possibly weakening it significantly. But the tenuous balance of power in the Senate since the last election has left a question mark over whether or not they will able to do so. With a WA Palmer United Party (PUP) Senate candidate coming out firmly on the side of the RET and Clive Palmer himself saying that he is in support of renewable energy, it seems that the scheme may stand a better chance of enduring in its current form than it did just a few days ago.

PUP’s lead WA senate candidate Zhenya ‘Dio’ Wang issued a press release stating in no uncertain terms that, if elected, he would put his weight behind protecting the scheme. The title of the release reads: “Renewable Energy Target should remain as is: Dio Wang”, saying in the first paragraph that the RET is “the right scheme for maintaining and improving Australia’s environment”.

The release also notes the often overlooked importance of the renewable energy industry in WA’s mining-dominated economy, with the solar sector alone employing a larger number of people than the state’s oil & gas extraction, gas supply and coal product manufacturing industries combined in 2012. “These jobs will be under threat if the RET is cut,” Mr Wang said, adding that the current review is a “waste of taxpayers’ money” as the last one was only 14 months ago.

Party head Clive Palmer has apparently stood behind Mr Wang’s statements, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Mr Palmer, a mining magnate who opposes the country’s Carbon Tax, has previously expressed doubt over whether climate change is caused by human activity and until now could not be said to be a vocal proponent of renewable energy. The statements made by Mr Wang and Mr Palmer’s support are therefore puzzling to those who have followed PUP’s political ascendancy even superficially.

Climate Spectator’s Tristan Edis notes that if Mr Wang’s statement’s indeed represent the unified views of his party, the RET is likely to survive in its current form. However, it is unclear whether this is the case given PUP’s sometimes nebulous platform messages. Mr Edis says:

So far the PUP’s policy platform is one so full of contradictions that the only thing consistent about it is that it aims to be all things to all people. In one breath it says the coal seam gas industry “should take a breather” until thorough research is undertaken into its environmental and health impacts, and that coal trains should have covers to prevent release of coal dust. But then on the other hand, Clive Palmer rails against environmental regulations that constrain growth of the mining sector.

It would be a story stranger than fiction if Clive Palmer were to be the renewable energy industry’s knight in shining armour. But in the end he has proven to be a chameleon that changes his spots in order to serve his interests. Picking a fight with the Coalition over the RET will do little to harm his business interests, while it could aid his political interests.

While the government did ride into power on a wave of sentiment opposed to the Carbon Tax, it has not received what could be described as a blank check to undermine the RET or thwart the progress that Australia is making with renewable energy. Surveys have demonstrated that renewable energy and the RET are viewed positively by the Australian public. If the RET manages to survive intact, it will be testament to this fact and to the rising prominence of renewables in the mainstream consciousness.

Top image: Clive Palmer, via Wikipedia

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