Rhetoric outstrips council commitment

By David Schout

The City of Melbourne is leading a green power shift with the announcement of a transfer to “100 per cent” renewables, but its ambitious plan to reach zero net emissions by 2020 has suddenly been pushed back 30 years.

The council announced on January 17 that all council facilities would be powered by renewable energy sources after co-funding 39 new wind turbines in regional Victoria.

“Every light on our streets, every treadmill in our gyms and every barbecue in our parks is now powered by renewable energy,” Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said, adding that it was the first Australian capital city to do so. 

The “100 per cent renewable” claim was rubbished as “lies” by business icon Dick Smith who claimed that, without advanced battery technology, the council would still be powered by coal at certain stages.

“On a winter’s night, they’re still getting power from coal,” Mr Smith was quoted as saying in The Australian.

But Cr Wood countered that the council’s new 10-year contract with Tango Energy stipulated 100 per cent renewable supply and it was “up to them to manage the idiosyncrasies or complexities of the grid and its inputs”.

The move follows news in December that the council would no longer be chasing its long-term “Zero Net Emissions by 2020” strategy.

In place since 2003, the target has now been pushed spectacularly back to 2050 after the council cited an expected rise in the global cost of carbon offsets.

The council’s policy was to increase energy efficiency and offset remaining emissions.

“The uncertainty on climate change policy in Australia has meant we are not on track to achieve this target unless we purchase carbon offsets,” a council spokesperson told CBD News.

“The international rules governing carbon offsets are currently being negotiated … and they are expected to substantially increase in cost after 2020, presenting a significant cost and risk to council.”

While the council has received favourable press for its decision to move to 100 per cent renewable energy, it failed to address the 30-year deferral of a long-held goal at the meeting where the new 2050 policy was endorsed.

Rather, Lord Mayor Sally Capp commended the new “Climate Change Mitigation Strategy” as another “ambitious plan”.

“This is an ambitious plan and I’m really proud of it for being ambitious,” she said.

The over-use of the term “ambitious” by the council is nothing new in this space.

In the original document from 2003, the 2020 goal was also described as “ambitious”, but included a prophetic warning .

“All too often, ambitious strategic plans are developed, then left in limbo due to the sudden realisation that ‘we do not have the resources to cover this plan’,” the 2003 document stated. 

But the new strategy appears to not have heeded this advice, as the council congratulated itself on being “one of the first cities to set such an ambitious target and many other cities followed our lead”.

The City of Melbourne is a clear proponent of clean energy and some councillors, notably Cr Wood, have been strident critics of federal government inaction in this area.

A rebuke of the federal government was testament to this, going as far as to say he was “really pissed off” when PM Scott Morrison criticised school students for marching on city streets due to climate change inaction.

But the lack of communication, aside from a small FAQ answer on its website, as to why its long-term 2020 target has suddenly been postponed 30 years can only lead to questions of transparency.

The move to renewables via the co-purchase of wind turbines shows the council’s climate goals move beyond rhetoric.

But its inclination to commend itself on the “ambition” of a new greenhouse gas target while simultaneously brushing over a failed previous goal may leave some scratching their heads. 

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