Marian Wilkinson and Ben Cubby
IN A move that could cost the Federal Government's GreenPower scheme public support, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has asked a state government agency and energy suppliers to stop telling customers that using GreenPower will ''make a real difference'' to the environment. Almost a million households now buy GreenPower, paying extra on their power bills to support renewable energy and shrink their carbon footprint.
But they will no longer be told it leads to ''significant results for our environment''.
The Federal Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, is facing a growing revolt over changes to the GreenPower scheme, amid claims from the consumer organisation Choice and environmental groups that voluntary efforts to cut emissions will simply allow large polluters to pollute more.
That is one of the biggest criticisms levelled at the emissions trading scheme, and will be subject to Senate debate next week. Despite the commission's advice, a spokeswoman for Senator Wong said all new GreenPower purchasers from the beginning of next year would contribute to Australia's greenhouse gas cuts targets.
''Further, existing GreenPower purchases were taken into account when the Government first announced the 2020 target range,'' the spokeswoman said.
''GreenPower customers have made a great contribution over the years, but the fact remains that even with the best efforts of Australian households and businesses in buying Green Power, Australia's emissions have still grown by more than 1 per cent each year since 1998.''
After consulting the commission, the NSW Department of Water and Energy has changed the description of GreenPower on its website and written to energy suppliers telling them to change their marketing. It asked power companies to stop using the phrase ''You can make a real difference'', and replace it with ''You have the power to choose''. The phrase ''significant results for our environment'' should be replaced with ''renewable energy for our future'', the department said in an email to power companies.
Associate Professor Alan Pears, an energy expert with RMIT in Melbourne, said GreenPower had to advise energy retailers to change their advertising to avoid being prosecuted by the commission for making false marketing claims. ''They don't want the retailers to be accused of greenwash'', Mr Pears said.
Retailers and supporters of voluntary action to cut greenhouse emissions say the key measures of the Federal Government's plans for GreenPower will rob consumers of a reason to buy the product.
A result of the measures is that in effect GreenPower purchases will not be counted in Australia's effort to reduce its greenhouse emissions until 2015.
The director of Ark Climate, Peter Shuey, who markets GreenPower, said many energy providers were unhappy about the Government's actions.
''For the Government to be destroying it is a backward step. If this is not fixed there is no point in purchasing GreenPower''.