By Giles Parkinson, RenewEconomy
If there was ever any doubt about the Abbott government’s antipathy to renewable energy, then a Senate report into the proposed abolition of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency must surely put it to rest.
It has given a fascinating – and somewhat frightening – insight into the coalition government’s antipathy to renewable energy, and how it has thrown its support behind extreme right ideology against green energy.
The Abbott government keeps insisting that it is ‘pro-renewables’, a facile description it is hanging on to because it has not yet acted on the diabolical recommendations of the Warburton review of the renewable energy target.
But the government’s conclusions on the ARENA Senate committee shows it is anything but supportive. The coalition sided with two of the most committed anti-renewable lobbies in the country – the gas association and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
These were the only two submissions supported that the government’s move to abolish the agency, which will see all future funding stripped and current projects managed absorbed by the department.
The other 129 submissions supported retention of ARENA, even the Business Council of Australia supported the agency, although it and a few others wanted it drop the renewables part and allow its fund to be spent gas (as some are trying to do with the RET).
The report, tabled in the Senate this week, and prepared by the government majority on the committee – is most notable for the credence it gives to the ACCI submission, whose ideological opposition to renewables has been documented here, in our story on the Dark forces lined up against renewables in Australia, and here.
ACCI wants all renewable energy measures removed, including the RET, the CEFC, and energy efficiency, so that the proposed Emissions Reduction Fund becomes the principal mechanism for limiting carbon emissions across the economy.
Labor pointed out that the government was so duplicitous in its recommendations that it actually claimed that some of the functions of ARENA could be taken up by the Clean Energy Finance Corp, or the RET, yet it was actively trying to terminate these programs as well.
And it highlighted the fact that many of the projects awarded when it was managed by the department of Energy had failed to eventuate, while those awarded since ARENA became independent had actually turned out quite well.
There is something to be said about having commercial nous, an attraction for ARENA and the CEFC as independent bodies, away from the influence and meddling of a minister, and a deficit for the ERF, which will likely become a bureaucratic disaster.
The Greens said there are more than 190 projects like those above that would generate $5.3 billion of private sector investment for a total $7.7 billion that would be lost to Australia if the ARENA abolition bill proceeded through Parliament. It noted that some $717 million of funding had already been stripped or deferred from ARENA over the next three years.
‘Our global competitors will have shot past us while Australia will be flailing in an innovation backlog,’ the Greens submission said.
‘We are a clever country that has up until now invested heavily in our ground-breaking researchers and academics. We have a huge capacity to be applying our threatened manufacturing skills on high-end, smart manufacturing products that our global competitors are less equipped to do. All these assets and opportunities will be lost if the government’s legislative program of destruction continues.’
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon reaffirmed his colours on renewables, expressing support for the solar thermal project in Port Augusta, and its potential to replace the coal industry dinosaurs, but continuing to rail against wind energy because it was ‘intermittent and unreliable’.
‘I am concerned that putting so much of our renewable energy investment and hopes in one basket we are forgoing the opportunity to invest in developing technologies,’ he said, while also mentioning community concerns about health impacts.
Xenophon wants a ‘moratorium’ on all new wind energy projects. ‘No further federal government funding should be directed towards wind projects, given ARENA is intended to focus on new and emerging technologies.
‘It is time Australia looked past wind and focused on some of our other natural resources like solar, tidal and geothermal reserves.’
Meanwhile, there are newspaper reports that the federal government is trying to find a ‘compromise deal’ with Labor over the renewable energy target.
It quoted Ian Macfarlane as ‘lamenting the lack of bipartisan’ support for the RET.
Hang on a minute. There was bipartisan report for the RET until the Abbott government was elected and refused to endorse the 41,000GWh target.
The best way for bipartisanship to return is for the government to do just that, endorse the 41,000GWh target and ensure that the next review is in four years time, as the Climate Change Authority recommended in late 2012.
The worry for the renewable energy industry is that Labor would be tempted to cut a deal: Its energy spokesman Gary Gray is no fan of renewables and once described himself, Macfarlane and former minister Martin Ferguson, another who wants the RET cut, as three peas in a pod.