Like many in the Northern Territory’s fledgling solar sector, Jeremy Hunt saw the chance for jobs, and growth, in the renewable energy target Labor took to the 2016 election.
But since the NT Government’s cutting of the financial incentive for home owners feeding rooftop solar into the grid, installation firms like his have taken an unexpected hit.
“Prior to the feed-in tariff change, we would have completed 100 to 150 quotes a month,” he said.
“The numbers are certainly down — to 25 to 50 a month.”
The suspected reason behind the snap reduction is the growing concern about possible blackouts affecting the Top End power grid.
The Government’s hand-picked renewables expert has raised concerns that the NT Labor Government has not done the necessary work to transition to solar.
But Environment Minister Eva Lawler is adamant Labor is delivering on the target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 that set Labor apart at the 2016 NT election.
“It’s one of our key platforms — the [Country Liberal’s] target is much lower than ours — but it is also about making sure we have stability in the grid,” she said.
The CLP has promised to scrap the target if it wins the NT election in August, although leader Lia Finocchiaro said the party was backing growth in the solar industry.
The new party in the NT, Territory Alliance, is aiming for the middle ground, with leader Terry Mills committing to a “sensible” renewable energy target of 30 per cent by 2030.
Bipartisan plans for fracking and gas
The NT Greens said they expected fracking would be the biggest issue on voters’ minds ahead of the August election.
“I have endless people coming to me saying they just can’t vote Labor again after the fracking decision,” said Billee McGinley, the Greens candidate for the Darwin seat of Nightcliff.
The minor party grabbed headlines earlier this year by preferencing Labor last in the Johnston by-election, declaring the move punishment for the Government’s decision to lift the fracking moratorium.
Labor went to the 2016 election promising a break on fracking while a scientific inquiry took place.
It lifted the moratorium after the inquiry found the risks associated with fracking could be managed.
Ahead of the 2020 election, both of the major parties are talking up a post-pandemic jobs recovery driven largely by the gas fields of the Beetaloo Basin south of Katherine.
Both have promised to implement all 135 recommendations from the fracking inquiry, but neither have clear plans for offsetting the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
Labor says it has the better environmental track record to safely manage the industry’s development, while the CLP has accused the Government of walking away from the industry.
But both sides are telling voters gas development will not come at the environment’s expense.
Green groups are worried the committee charged with leading the NT’s post-coronavirus economic recovery, the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission, is too focussed on gas.
The lone renewables advocate on the panel is hoping to convince Labor and the CLP they are selling voters a gas pipedream.
“There’s easily more jobs in a renewables transformation,” said Eytan Lenko from the Beyond Zero Emissions think tank.
Both parties are listening to advice from analysts like Daniel Toleman from Wood Mackenzie, who said that despite the low gas prices now, demand would recover.
“I see long term international demand for LNG growing out to 2040, and for the life of the Beetaloo there should be sufficient gas demand,” he said.
Territory Alliance ‘not enthusiastic’ about fracking
Aside from the Greens, other minor parties and independents are hoping the bipartisanship on fracking could drive some voters away from the major parties.
Territory Alliance leader Terry Mills has declared his support for onshore gas development in the short to medium term.
But he has promised to cancel government exploration subsidies for an industry that he says “the community largely doesn’t support”.
“We have some concerns about fracking, we’re not enthusiastic about fracking,” Mr Mills said.
But conservation groups said they believed Territory Alliance and CLP policies would merge if they were to take government by forming a coalition, which neither group has ruled out.
“It’s very hard to know if Territory Alliance would stick to their guns,” NT Environment Centre director Shar Molloy said.
In Alice Springs, Labor-turned-independent member Scott McConnell is hoping to take the seat of Renewables Minister Dale Wakefield with an anti-fracking, pro-solar position.
“People are telling me they value water security and they want the Territory to have a diversified sustainable economy that’s adapting to climate change,” Mr McConnell said.
This content was originally published here.