We polled earlier this year on public attitudes to electricity prices. The results were reported in The Australian. Our panel of 1208 told us that they were on balance having more trouble paying their power bills this year, but were split on the causes, and how much they could afford to pay to meet our Paris Accord commitments, pretty much on party lines. One one side it is Greens and ALP, who are in high agreement with each other, and on the other Liberals, One Nation and Australian Conservatives, who are in substantial agreement with each other.
Most are convinced that increasing electricity prices are due to corporate greed and government mismanagement, although there is a smaller counter-narrative that blames increasing use of renewables.
The theme of corporate greed expresses itself in two subsidiary stories: privatisation of electricity resources by governments, and gaming of the system by power companies. These voters want the government to exercise control over power prices by controlling retailers, generators and distributors.
They look to a past where power was cheaper, and mostly generated, distributed and sold by governments, so they draw the conclusion that as ownership has changed at some levels, and in some states, and power is now more expensive, privatisation is the reason.
These voters are generally convinced that renewable energy (wind and solar) is cheaper than the alternatives, and more modern, so that adopting them is a smarter, cheaper, more forward-looking solution than the current technologies.
Those who blame renewables don’t articulate their case as clearly. They are more likely to be experiencing trouble because of higher prices, but they see the incursion of renewables as being the biggest issue, and tend to be supporters of coal.
With such incompatible stories it is unlikely that Australia will have a certain market for electricity generation and supply anytime soon.
The only thing that all sides of the argument have in common is that all-up 90% don’t want to pay more than $20 dollars per month to meet emissions targets. But many of them think that someone else should pay up if there is a cost.
And while the pro-renewables camp generally thinks that renewables are cheaper than conventional baseload, they are also keen supporters of subsidies for renewables, even if they don’t want to pay for the subsidy.