FoE's campaign for a Victorian Renewable Energy Target

Leigh Ewbank ‒ Yes 2 Renewables campaign coordinator

After a community campaign that lasted over two years, the Andrews government has committed to Victorian Renewable Energy Targets of 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025.

In the year 2050, I'll be 65 years old. Amazingly the wind farms built and solar panels installed to meet the VRET will winding up their operating life. I'll be able to look over them and tell my family and friends about the campaign that put Victoria on a pathway to 100% renewables.

It's fair to say that over the past four years, Friends of the Earth's Yes 2 Renewables campaign has transformed energy politics and policy in Victoria. In 2012-13, we went head-to-head with the anti-wind farm lobby on King Island, Central Victoria, and Canberra. And in 2014, we secured the repeal of the Baillieu government's anti-wind farm laws.

These modest campaign victories set us up for a more ambitious task: To make Victoria a safe-haven for renewables by reinstating a Victorian Renewable Energy Target.

The election of the Abbott government in 2013 presented a significant threat to renewable energy in Australia. Comments from the newly elected Prime Minister in November 2013 signalled an imminent attack on the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme. We were right. PM Tony Abbott launched a hostile review of the RET scheme in February 2014 ‒ appointing former Caltex chairman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton to evaluate the renewables scheme.

The uncertainty unleashed from the Warburton review saw investment collapse by 90% in 12 months and over 2,500 people lose their jobs. The Abbott government's 20% cut to the target stalled the sector and made it more difficult for Australia to tackle climate change.

With the federal government sabotaging the sector, it would be up to state leadership to grow renewables.

In February 2014 Friends of the Earth's Yes 2 Renewables project launched a campaign for a Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET). Campaign milestones are listed here:

February 2014

  • Friends of the Earth launched our election-year campaign. Reinstating a VRET was among four key recommendations to state politicians.
  • Yes 2 Renewables commenced community engagement work in the state electoral districts of Macedon and South Barwon.

April 2014

  • Yes 2 Renewables launched a report investigating the adverse impact the Baillieu-era anti-wind farm laws had on jobs and investment. The report recommended the re-introduction of a VRET to drive investment in renewable energy projects.

August 2014

  • Yes 2 Renewables partnered with the Australian Wind Alliance to host a public Renewable Energy & Jobs Forum in Premier Napthine's electorate where hundreds are employed in the renewable energy sector.
  • Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber announced the party's commitment to support the reintroduction of a state renewables target. The VRET gained an important backer with the endorsement of former federal Liberal Party leader John Hewson.
  • 'Push for state Renewable Energy Target' (The Observer, 22 Aug 2014)

October 2014

  • 'Vic Labor flags state-based renewable target if Fed folds' (RenewEconomy, 1 Oct 2014)

November 2014

  • On the eve of the election, Yes 2 Renewables published the results of a survey of renewable energy jobs in Melbourne. The report found that one in ten jobs had been lost over the year 2013-14.
  • Yes 2 Renewables and partners – including the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group and Surf Coast Energy Group – send letters to candidates calling for commitment to a VRET.
  • Andrews government elected with commitment to grow the renewable energy sector.

February 2015

  • Friends of the Earth launched an online open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister Lily D'Ambrosio, calling for the repeal the Baillieu anti-wind laws and re-introduction of a VRET.
  • Andrews government announce Renewable Energy Action Plan policy development.

March 2015

  • Yes 2 Renewables participated in a roundtable hosted by the Victorian Energy Minister, Lily D'Ambrosio.
  • The Victorian Greens launch a petition site calling for a VRET.
  • 'Wind farm restrictions eased' (Surf Coast Times, 26 March 2015)

April 2015

  • The Andrews government call for the Abbott government to amend national Renewable Energy Target legislation to remove the 'section 7c' limitation that prohibits duplication of federal policy. This change would provide the quickest and easiest path to reinstate the VRET.

May 2015

  • Premier Daniel Andrews launches a website calling for the Abbott government to remove Section 7c from the national RET legislation.
  • University of Melbourne and RMIT University academics say 'section 7c' is no barrier to a VRET.

June 2015

  • Important member of the Victorian Legislative Council, James Purcell, publicly endorses the VRET.
  • Yes 2 Renewables and the Australian Conservation Foundation join forces to call on the Abbott government to allow states to champion their own RETs.

July 2015

  • 'Andrews defies Abbott in wind farm showdown' (Herald Sun, 15 July 2015)

August 2015 

  • The Andrews government committed to VRETs for 2020 and 2025 in its Renewable Energy Roadmap (draft policy) ‒ including a commitment to a baseline target of at least 20% by 2020. 

September 2015

  • Friends of the Earth supporters make over 650 submissions to the government on the Renewable Energy Roadmap. Notable submissions include the likes of the City of Melbourne, Voices of the Valley, Victorian Trades Hall Council, and Municipal Association of Victoria.
  • Yes 2 Renewables help build a coalition for VRET ambition that includes unions, renewable energy industry players, and community and environment groups.
  • Public consultations find strong support for ambitious renewable energy targets.

November 2015

  • Yes 2 Renewables launch Petition for Ambition calling for ambitious and achievable Victorian Renewable Energy Targets of 30% by 2020 and 50% by 2025.

December 2015

  • Unions, councils and green groups urge Andrews to aim high on renewables' (The Age, 20 Dec 2015)

February 2016

  • On the first sitting day of Parliament for 2016, the Gasfield-Free Victoria and Yes 2 Renewables campaigns join forces for a rally. Over 200 people attended to call on the Andrews government to ban onshore gas and grow renewables. Speakers included Luke Hilakari (Vic Trades Hall Council), representatives from Labor Environment Action Network, Ellen Sandell MP, and shadow energy minister David Southwick (Liberal).

March 2016 

  • Greens MP Ellen Sandell supports VRET ambition in statement to the Legislative Assembly.

April 2016

  • A new Yes 2 Renewables report finds a 30% by 2020 is an ambitious and achievable VRET. The report presents policies to deliver state targets and recommends the aim of at least 30% by 2020 and 50% by 2025.
  • Yes 2 Renewables launch an online action to support the recommended targets. Hundreds of people email Premier Andrews, Deputy-Premier Merlino, and Treasurer Pallas to call for VRET ambition.

June 2016

  • The Andrews government announces Victorian Renewable Energy Targets of 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025. The state government will use reverse auctions to hit the targets that will be enshrined in legislation, making it a policy with teeth.
  • The Victorian Renewable Energy Targets will double wind energy capacity in the state by 2020 and triple renewable energy capacity by 2025 ‒ creating 10,000 jobs and unlocking a $2.5 billion investment opportunity in the process.
  • Analysis from University of Melbourne Energy Institute finds that Australia now has an implicit national Renewable Energy Target of 30-35% by 2030 due to Victoria's targets.
  • The VRET, in combination with other state schemes, has broken the capital strike stalling the rollout of renewables in Australia.
  • Competitive pressure in the electricity market from new renewable energy capacity will expedite the closure of polluting coal power plants.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported the Yes 2 Renewables campaign ‒ those of you who supported us with donations, joined us at campaign events, and participated in online actions. It has been an epic team effort from people all across Victoria.

So, what's next?  Rapid growth in the renewable energy sector presents new threats and opportunities:

  • The Andrews government will consult with industry and other stakeholders to shape the renewable energy auctions. Yes 2 Renewables will engage in this process to deliver the best outcome for communities, workers, industry, and our climate.
  • A doubling of wind farms in less than four years could see the resurgence of the anti-wind lobby. We're in the perfect position to work with communities to protect them from anti-wind farm spin.
  • The VRETs will be enshrined in legislation. It's critical to defend the initiative from climate deniers and fossil fuel backers (inside and outside the Parliament). Our engagement will ensure we get strong legislation that allows Victoria to lift its renewable energy ambition, and that it makes it through the Parliament.

If you'd like to support Yes 2 Renewables in this exciting new phase, please make a donation. We're a grassroots campaign that runs on a shoestring budget. Our campaign depends on your support.

Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, August 2016