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AGL renewables fund just a greener shade of black

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Thursday’s news that Australia’s worst polluter would lay the foundations for the Powering Australian Renewables Fund was met with praise by Australia’s mainstream media. But it’s left me asking one thing: would you like fries with that?

Energy giant AGL has taken its first steps towards meeting the Renewable Energy Target by announcing a $2 billion fund to finance clean energy projects. The move has been feted by some as ending a stalemate between the dirty energy providers, who’ve been dragging their heels on investing in the sector since the RET was reviewed (and slashed) in May last year.

Sounds delicious, but ultimately we’re still talking about Australia’s dirtiest polluter and biggest investor in coal-fired power generation. So really, they’ve done little more than put a lettuce leaf on their triple cheeseburger.

AGL can add all the green garnishing they want to their junk food diet, but until it actually changes its base menu, token acts won’t add up to much.20081205-fiveguys-cheeseburger

Now, while AGL is seeking  $400-700 million from investors, it’s important to note that it really is, when you look at it on its own, a great idea. As was the opening of AGL’s mega solar farms in Nyngan and Broken Hill.

We can’t deny AGL praise where praise is due; the company is making progress – and thankfully had the sense to realise the Gloucester coal seam gas idea was a bad one. It’s just when you look at AGL as a whole these efforts pale in comparison to their fossil fuel investments.

We need to keep perspective before we get too carried away by the lean and green AGL bandwagon.

At the end of the day, in order for Australia to catch up with the world and significantly cut its carbon emissions, we need to see a shift in the foundational constitution of companies like AGL.

Not only do these companies need to invest in renewables, they need ensure they provide a genuine replacement for coal – which obviously means saying goodbye to coal-fired power stations as soon as possible.

AGL and its cohort need to not only add some greens, but change their diet completely.

So, what will it take to get AGL to ditch the coal? The answer is, us.

We average joes have united on political grounds with success before. The only difference at this battleground is that it’s a corporate one.

AGL’s customers are among the most influential to the company – because we give them our money. It means we are left with an important task; act together to help genuinely shape AGL’s investment portfolio for the better. And to do that, we need to leave them en masse until they get the message that customers demand not only more investment in renewables, but the ceasing of investment in coal.

The notion is such a simple one, that’s why it has so much power. It also forms the basis of our Better Power campaign: As more and more customers switch to a cleaner electricity provider, more and more money trickles from AGL’s bottom line. And as the trickle becomes a torrent AGL will have to pull up anchor on its coal-fired power stations or risk too big a financial impact, and a public one at that.

It’s up to all of us to force AGL not only into renewables but out of coal. We need to make our effort big, make it loud, make it public and most of all, make it happen.

And for the record, AGL did opt for that side of fries – a supersized serving at that – when they bought top five polluting coal-fired power generator Macquarie Generation in 2014. That impulse buy made them Australia’s worst carbon polluter, and it’s going to take more than a token serve of green to make up for that.

Kara Sonter is Market Impact Coordinator at GetUp!

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