Since it was first introduced in 1997 as “a world-first” in greenhouse gas reductions, the GreenPower programme has demonstrated that the Australian population feels concerned about climate change. GreenPower is a government accreditation program for renewable energy, which enables households and businesses to buy “green energy” from their providers at an extra cost. The money raised is then invested by energy companies in renewable energy sources like wind, biomass and hydropower.
The GreenPower program, considered one of the most successful efforts by households to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, is voluntary. It is said to have cut GHG emissions by 31 million tonnes or as it is often stated, equal to “taking 7 million cars off our roads for a year”. The latest figures show that over 877,000 (nearly one in eight) Australian homes and 34,000 businesses are voluntarily purchasing GreenPower. And the trend is still growing, as New South Wales figures show a 17% increase of the number of customers from 2007 to 2008.
Nevertheless, the scheme’s future is threatened after big energy companies warned it might not be viable under the Federal Government’s planned emissions trading scheme. Indeed, a household’s voluntary purchase of GreenPower would not technically be recognised under the Government’s scheme as reducing national GHG emissions, hence concerns rise about the fact that it may end up subsidising heavy-polluting industry. A spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Owen Pascoe, said: “Our reading of the emissions trading legislation is that voluntary actions such as purchasing GreenPower won’t be accounted for and won’t improve the government’s very low targets.” (SMH 01/03/09)
Well aware of the problem, the Australian Government remains quite vague about potential solutions while heavily promoting the scheme on national and regional television channels. The federal Climate Change Minister, Senator Wong, said voluntary household reductions would be taken into account when setting future targets, but the Government’s draft carbon trading legislation does not say voluntary reductions would be additional to industry reductions. This means households would be shouldering the burden that business would otherwise be compelled to take on. The Government needs to find a way to incorporate GreenPower into its carbon scheme otherwise it might seriously undermine public confidence in other reductive measures and destroy years of commitment of those who embraced the programme.