72% of Australians want to keep or expand renewable energy, as Abbott government considers abolishing it

Australians overwhelmingly want the renewable energy target to be retained or even increased, as the Abbott government considers abolishing the incentive for new renewable projects.

Polling for the Climate Institute shows 72% of Australians want to keep or expand the renewable energy target (RET), which requires that 20% of energy is sourced from renewables by 2020.

This is slightly higher than the 69% who said they wanted the RET maintained or increased when the same questions were posed in last year’s poll, despite a strong campaign over the past year by industry groups and Coalition backbenchers arguing that the RET was increasing power prices.

Respondents were then told “opponents of the scheme say the RET is a subsidy that drives up electricity bills, while supporters say it has helped create jobs and has tripled Australia’s wind and solar energy since 2009”. 71% still thought it should remain at its current level, 20%, or be increased, even after hearing the arguments. Support was especially high among women, with only 7% wanting the RET decreased or abolished.

But government sources said the Abbott government is likely to “grandfather” the scheme after it receives the final report from its review of the program, led by businessman and self-professed climate sceptic Dick Warburton. This would see it deliver only about one third of the renewable power that was originally legislated – with bipartisan support.

The sources said the challenge now was to work out how this could be achieved in practice.

The Coalition went to the election promising to keep the RET, which underpins investment in energy sources such as wind and solar, but saying it would review the fact that the policy was exceeding its original goal of delivering 20% renewable energy by 2020 because of falling electricity demand.

As yet unreleased modelling for business groups including the Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has considered four options: leaving the RET as it is, reducing it to a “real” 20%, “grandfathering” it to allow only existing investments to continue, and abolishing it altogether.

In its submission, the Institute of Public Affairs think tank, which favours abolition of the RET, says the government has three options, abolition, “grandfathering” or reducing it to a real “20%”.

The RET is currently required to deliver 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewables by 2020 (which was 20% of what it was incorrectly estimated that the market would be). To deliver 20% of the current market this would have to be reduced to 33,000GWh. Grandfathering would deliver only 15,000GWh.

The poll also found that 76% of people think state governments should do more to provide incentives to renewable energy. Again the strongest support came from women (82%).

The poll was conducted for the Climate Institute by JWS research from May 16-20. The sample size was 1,145 and the margin of error is 2.9%.

Warburton, a veteran industrialist and the chairman of the Westfield Retail Trust, described his views on climate science in a 2011 interview on ABC in this way: “Well, I am a sceptic. I’ve never moved away from that. I’ve always believed sceptical,’’ he said. “But a sceptic is a different person than a denier. I say the science is not settled. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’ve never said it’s wrong, but I don’t believe it’s settled.”

, political editor