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Newman takes aim at climate and renewables

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Newly elected Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is expected to move quickly to disband the state’s climate change and renewable energy programs, raising questions about whether the state’s $75 million contribution to the Solar Dawn project will remain intact.

Newman has already replaced the head of Premier and Cabinet John Bradley with investment banker Jon Grayson, who cites the biggest transaction on his CV as the successful bid for the Dalrymple Coal Terminal when he was head of Prime Infrastructure.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management and the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation are to be split. The office of climate change, headed by Greg Withers, the husband of ousted premier Anna Bligh,  also faces an uncertain future.

According to its policy document released a day before the election, the Newman government plans to abolish eight of Labor’s environmental funds, including the solar flagships program, the $300 million climate change fund and the $50 million renewable energy fund.

The other funds identified include Queensland Smart Energy Savings Fund, the Queensland Future Growth Fund, the Solar Initiatives Package, the Waste Avoidance and Resource Efficiency Fund and Local Government Sustainable Future Fund

The document described the schemes as “redundant and a waste of taxpayer’s money in light of the federal government’s mandated Renewable Energy Target and the carbon tax.” And, therefore, any state-based scheme will simply mean Queenslanders will be paying for other states to emit more,” the document said. The carbon schemes are a “luxury Queensland just can’t afford.”

And it quoted the Productivity Commission’s submission to the Garnaut Climate Change Review, saying an “effective ETS, much of the current patchwork of climate change policies will become redundant and there will only be a residual role for state, territory and local government initiatives.” Garnaut said the same thing, but put the emphasis on the caveat word “effective”.

It is not clear whether the closure means no new spending or whether money already allocated or committed, such as the solar flagships contribution, will be repatriated. The renewable energy fund, for instance, included $9 millon for Mackay Sugar’s co-generation projet, $15 million to the University of Queensland geothermal energy’s centre of excellence, up to $4.3 million for the new geothermal power station at Birdsville. Not all of that has been spent.

The impact of withdrawing the $75 million funding from Solar Dawn is also not clear, as some of it may have been designed to support research initiatives, including a $60 million research program at the University of Queensland. Solar Dawn failed to get a power purchase agreement and financing in place in time to meet a December deadline to access $465 million in federal funding, although it won a six month extension.

A statement from the company said it “appreciated the commitment of the State of Queensland which has signed a $75 million conditional agreement with Solar Dawn for project assistance” and it looked forward to “continuing its relationship with the government” and briefing personnel on progress in the project.

The Victorian conservative government, meanwhile, has axed the 20 per cent emissions abatement target set by its Labor predecessor, despite supporting it while in Opposition.

The state government came under huge pressure to abandon the target, saying it placed an unnecessary burden on Victorian industry. Opponents included the usual industry organizations and individual companies such as Alcoa, Alinta and Exxon Mobil.

Alcoa’s submission included a boast about how it had invested heavily to reduce its emissions and improve the efficiency of its aluminium plants to gain a competitive advantage. It apparently did not see the irony in pointing out the “inefficiencies and higher costs” involved if Victoria sought a similar advantage for its economy.

The decision by the Victorian government is the latest in a series of moves which has seen it halt feed-in-tariffs, impose strict planning restrictions on wind farm developments, and announce its intention to reopen tenders for more brown coal extraction. On the plus side it has doubled the state’s energy efficiency target, and promised up to $25 million for a geothermal project need Geelong.

In NSW, meanwhile, the new coalition state government has also brought its solar tariff to an abrupt end, and is proposing similarly restrictive planning guidelines on wind farms. Queensland hasn’t needed to bother about that because there are only 12MW of wind turbines in the state in any case. (Newman has, however, vowed tor retain the state’s feed in tariff, which because it was properly structured in the first place, with a net tariff rather than a gross, has been the most successful and cost effective tariff in the country.

The message from all three Conservative governments is that climate change action and renewable energy development is a national issue and not a state one. None of the states seem interested in gaining an advantage, or attracting investment, at the expense of the other. Does this happen in any other industry?

As acting Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said today, this now increases pressure on Tony Abbott to deliver on his “bipartisan” commitment to reduce the country’s emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, without a price on carbon – a policy that looks increasingly fragile following the CSIRO’s recent dampener on the coalition’s plan to achieve its abatement through carbon farming initiatives.

 

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  • keith williams

    California

    If only our state governments would look across the pacific to see what California is doing.

    Very depressing to see all of the populous states on the East Coast effectively going into climate denial mode…. and the east coast is where the climate changes are most visible. What will it take to make Governments realise how serious this is?

    • George

      Dismantling renewable energy investmant is clearly a priority for them ( and presumably their sponsors ) as they have instigated this within 24 hours of being sworn in.

      But I don’t remember it being an election priority.

  • Yeah really

    And to think QLD will be effectively in climate change denial policy mode for the next decade… so depressing. Fossil Fuels must be smirking themselves silly.

  • heads in the sand

    Something they can’t afford, but obviously dealing with the ramifications of climate change (eg. big floods on a potentially regular basis, or more serious cyclones) is something they can afford. I for one will not be subsidising flood relief efforts through donations – happy to pay a carbon tax, but not relief effort without serious efforts to address causes – they will have enough mining/coal money to pay for this themselves.

  • http://www.energyinachangingclimate.info Martin Nicholson

    One suspects that things will only get tighter if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister.

    Speaking of prime ministers, I think you will find that John Bradley was Director-General of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet not head of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

    • Giles Parkinson

      Error fixed. Seems a shame that he’s only been in power two days and we’ve already demoted him.

  • Marian Rumens

    Was this an election promise. Was it ever mentioned in the election?

  • Sad day for climate action

    The article states that the policy was released on the day before the election. Clearly the LNP didn’t want to give the electorate a chance to think about it. At the same time you can be sure that they will claim a mandate. I think we have lost our last chance for government to do anything meaningful about climate change as the next decade is critical. There will need to a complete reversal of political fortunes for the carbon tax to survive beyond the term of the current federal government, although the senate might slow things a little.

    The political tide has turned against action on climate change. I find this deeply depressing.

    Hopefully we will start to see a grass roots level fight back on this issue. I think everyone who is very concerned about this issue will be looking elsewhere for solutions.

    • Gordon

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there.

  • Winston Smith

    More muddy thinking by Australia’s New Liberals. The RET and carbon tax will not support research initiatives and a broad based approach to energy market reform and changes.

    Unfortunately most State seems to think that because the Feds are doing something, they don’t need to and that they don’t want to pay for anything anyone else can benefit from in reaching emissions and energy reduction targets.

    It bodes ill for any future Liberal Federal Government’s efforts in supporting renewable energy.

  • James H

    I was half expecting that the QLD Feed in Tariff would be brought to an end by the new government.
    If it is to continue then that is a major plus for the continued roll-out of solar in the state. The residential market is booming and will continue to be the driver of solar here.
    While no doubt the climate deniers are at work behind the scenes, there probably is still some justification of closing down some of those other funding ideas.
    Solar Flagships was always an ill-conceived program which was never going to do anything for the continued expansion of renewables in the country. It was just a one-off impetus that tried to pick winners rather than providing ongoing support like the FiT.

  • Sad

    Worst. Governments. Ever.

  • ashamed

    QLD was at risk of being considered ‘progressive’. This is just the new government doing everything it can to keep our redneck stereotype alive. Now git ooff mah dert farm!

  • DWA

    If you were Clive Palmer, bank-rolling the LNP campaign, wouldn’t you expect a little something in return?