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Abbott launches new assault on clean energy

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The Tony Abbott government has launched a new assault on the country’s clean energy institutions, deciding to make a second attempt to try and scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The introduction of a second bill into the House of Representative on Thursday morning comes as concerns increase about the future of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – the once $3.2 billion institution designed to foster emerging technologies.

The $10 billion CEFC – which on Wednesday made a $20 million loan facility to Carnegie Wave Energy, the first ever pure debt facility ever awarded to a wave energy firm – has been a target of the Abbott government ever since it was elected government in September last year.

Abbott has already dissolved the Climate Commision, but his attempts to dismantle the carbon price, the CEFC and the Climate Change Authority have so far been resisted in the Senate.

The measure to scrap the CEFC was the first of the Abbott government’s carbon tax repeal package rejected by the Senate, and its rejection on a second occasion may provide the Abbott government with a trigger to have a double dissolution, something it may be tempted to do if the Senate re-run in WA does not run in its favour.

“What we are seeing at the moment is a go-slow of historic proportions in the Senate,” Environment Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.
 AAP reported that he urged Labor and the Greens to bring on a vote in the Senate for the other bills.

The CEFC has so far committed just short of $600 million – out of its annual resources of $2 billion – to dozens of projects ranging from wave energy to solar thermal to wind energy, and to energy efficiency and waste-to-energy investments.

It says that it has levered four times that amount in private investment, and such a program could deliver up to half of the emissions reduction targeted by the Abbott government in its Direct Action policy – and at a net benefit (rather than cost) per tonne of CO2.

Government ministers have slammed the CEFC as nothing more than a “green hedge fund”, and its repeal is prominent on the list of 75 “things to do” compiled by the ultra conservative Institute of Public Affairs, a document which appears to have become the defacto policy work-sheet of the Abbott inner core.

As the Abbott government attacks the CEFC, it has also hired climate sceptic Dick Warburton to head the review of the renewable energy target – a piece of former bi-partisan legislation that the IPA and others also want dismantled. Warburton will be supported in his task by a fossil fuel lobbyist Brian Fisher and the former head of WA coal generator Verve Energy.

There is growing concern, however, over the status of ARENA, which was to have $3.2 billion to spend over the next decade supporting new renewable technologies and infrastructure, as well as accelerating the rollout of large scale solar PV plants.

Such initiatives, however, are now seen as a huge risk to incumbent fossil fuel generators. Solar in particular, is reducing the yield that generators traditionally gained from selling electricity into the extended mid-day peaks.

Residential solar has already been wiping away much of the profits of the coal and gas generators, causing writedowns and losses and causing these generators to urge for a rethink of the small scale renewable target.

There is already great doubt about the Abbott government’s commitment to its “one million solar roofs” policy, which it hurriedly suggested should be managed by ARENA after eradicating other funds in its most recent budget cuts.

Rather than a handout (which has already been cut by half to $500 per system), there is speculation that the program could involve the provision of incentives for the lowest income households and renters, if it goes ahead at all.

ARENA has already been massively defunded, and there is speculation that if its budget is further cut, as part of Joe Hockey’s first annual budget in May, then the decision may be made to re-absorb the independent, statutory body into a government department.

It used to be part of the Department of Resources and Energy, before being separated out and run by an independent board following a string of disastrous grant allocations. Such a move would cause considerable disquiet in the renewable energy sector in Australia, particularly those looking at new technologies such as hybrid systems, solar PV and solar thermal, storage, and other “enabling” technologies.

All this comes as Clive Palmer double-flipped on his supposed support for the renewable energy target, saying he liked the idea but didn’t want the fixed, 41,000GWh target to be “mandatory”.

This came as the NSW government decided to reopening the development application process for nine previously approved wind farm projects.  NSW Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard has directed that the wind farm projects now be considered as “State Significant Developments” instead of being dealt with under the Part 3A transitional provisions that are a legacy from Labor’s time in office.

The wind industry says that this decision effectively places them back in the planning system.

“The NSW government has sown the seeds of community division by reopening the planning process for these wind farms,” said Friends of the Earth renewables spokesperson Leigh Ewbank.  “A noisy minority refuse to accept wind energy and continues to make unsubstantiated claims that the technology has health impacts. This decision looks like a capitulation to those elements.”

The 9 wind farms are the Yass, Crookwell wind farm, Liverpool Range, Rugby, Bango, Uungula, Crudine Ridge, Paling Yards and Rye Park wind farms.

Addendum: On Thursday, the Senate rejected the remainder of the carbon tax repeal bills. Hunt said the bills would be presented back to the Senate in the first week of July. He says it’s his “duty and honour” to carry on with the repeal.

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  • Keith

    Time to get this in front of the voters of Western Australia. It is pretty clear that the average voter has no idea of the clearly articulated plans to destroy the renewable energy industry and thumb our noses at climate change. Why is Labor so passive about this? There is huge community support for renewables.

    • Giles

      That’s a question I and others often ask Keith.

    • Stev0

      I’d say it’s because anything to do with renewables gets linked to the carbon tax through the Clean Energy Future package. Labor seem scared to make statements or moves in any direction on the carbon tax of late.

      • Alen

        They’re already maintaing the link by voting against the repeal in senate. The constant tedious noise and statements from the LNP when this happens ensures people are aware of this link, so by throwing their support behind the RET they won’t be creating a further or additional link to carbon tax. It’s up to them to seperate these two and voice their support the latter (RET). A big political oppertunity to gain some ground if you ask me.

    • Zvyozdochka

      Labor can’t co-oridinate a way to get themselves from old-coal-jobs to new-renewable-jobs.

      Even though she is a progressive, you won’t hear Louise Pratt (taking my WA Senate as an example) arguing that Collie coal workers need to realise that they have to help move to new industry. That’s a pretty mild statement of truth really.

      Just like they can’t tell timber workers it’s over.

      Or argue for rail in case the truck drivers spit the dummy.

      The way I see it Labor may as well pack it in – they just can’t pull any sort of future vision for the nation together and explain it.

      For example, how can Scott Ludlam and his small staff get this done/costed where Labor can’t? http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/WA2.0

  • http://www.trongdong.weebly.com/ Nhan

    Skepticism about clean energy is one good thing , because what it does is only 40% effective , if you want to be convinced , 100% effective ,ha ha, and 100% effective is here , if You can not believe , Come see

  • Miles Harding

    Clive Palmer has made the transition to ‘politician’ rather quickly. Within 24 hours we hear that he supports the RET, but then find out that he actually thinks that another review is a waste of money (true!), but that he doesn’t support any mandatory target either.

    The ABC local radio (WA) interview this morning was telling.

    So… Palmer United party next to the liberals at the end my preferences in the 70 (?!!) candidate WA senate.

    As for the IPA, they are so entrenched in their own dogma that they can’t see the global issues that are really sinking the economy. The profit warnings and asset sales (to pay dividends) of the oil super-majors should serve as big flashing sign that the oil industry is almost finished. The Steven Kopits talk at Columbia U. summed the predicament nicely.

    In Australia, we have governments that are committing gross dereliction of their duty by failing to acknowledge the world situation and proposing a course of action that will leave the nation seriously compromised as the energy (and climate) situation worsens.

    • CM

      Interestingly, the IPA article (with the list from 2012) actually praises, directly and indirectly, the Whitlam govt Miles. Agree most of the list made me cringe. May I suggest that in particular, solar is going to continue to grow, and through the excellent research worldwide, improve and become cheaper.

    • JonathanMaddox

      Clive Palmer has been a politician since 1972. This is just the first time he’s actually been elected.

  • bill

    A double dissolution? I know we are on the other side of the chasm down Australia’s middle but another election weil see a revolt in WA. And the cost! $20million for the Senate re-run.

  • JohnRD

    For the ALP there are several problems with the RET. Firstly, it was started by Howard. Secondly, it is one of the few emission trading schemes in the world that actually works. Thirdly, because it is an offset credit trading scheme, the associated price rises will always be less than those required to make a carbon price based system work.

    The crazy thing is that Abbott is trying to cripple the RET instead of taking credit for it – But I guess it doesn’t have as much macho appeal as “DIRECT ACTION!!!!!!”

  • CM

    Hmm, ARENA has always had an independent board which included the Secretary of RET and now includes the Secretary of Industry. I enjoy reading Renew for its excellent information on renewable energy but sometimes the political commentary is a bit much. Look

    • Giles

      Point taken – on board and politics (but, gee, who has been making this issue political in the last few months). Anyhow, ARENA was created because it was felt that it could operate a lot more effectively at arms distance from DRET, and with its own staff. Shame to see if it loses status as statutory body.

      • CM

        Sadly it’s been political for a long time Giles. But still people keep putting solar on their roofs despite falling or no subsidies. That’s the BBQ topic in my circles, not the politics. But thanks for a great site.