Frischknecht to step down as head of ARENA

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Ivor Frischknecht, the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is to leave the institution after the completion of his second term, and after overseeing 320 projects which have led to more than $3.5 billion dollars of investment over the last six years.

The departure – in August – was announced on Tuesday by federal environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg, who says Frischknecht’s decision not to seek a third term would give the government plenty of time to find a replacement.

Frischknecht said he had the support of the board and the government to continue, but decided to step down for personal reasons, and to spend time with his Melbourne-based family.

“I think ARENA is well positioned, it has a great team, it’s got strong government support, and it is good time to leave it on a high,” he told RenewEconomy.

Frischknecht had been an investor before the ARENA job, and says he may return to the sector, at least in an advisory role.

Frischknecht was the founding CEO of ARENA, which was created in 2012 by the then Gillard Labor government under its Clean Energy Future package negotiated with The Greens, along with the Clean Energy Finance Corp, and other institutions.

It had an initial budget of $3.2 billion, including funds from incomplete schemes such as the much delayed and reframed Solar Flagships program, but part of this this was deferred, and effectively cut, in Labor’s 2013 budget.

ARENA survived the Abbott government’s war on Labor’s climate and energy policy legacy, although only just when the move was blocked by Labor and the Greens in the Senate.

A later attempt by the Turnbull government, and minister Frydenberg, to strip ts remaining $1.3 billion budget was defeated, but only after Labor controversially agreed to a $500 million cut as part of a compromise deal, leaving ARENA with just $800 million over the next five years.

In a statement, Frydenberg said Frischknecht has helped to make ARENA a success by utilising his expertise in energy, innovation and early stage investment.

“Under his guidance, ARENA has developed a clear set of priority investment areas consistent with the Turnbull Government’s emphasis on affordable and reliable energy,” he said.

“I thank Mr Frischknecht for the contribution he has made in helping the Government to deliver a more affordable and reliable energy system as we transition to a lower emissions future.”

ARENAs funding achievements include the large scale solar funding round that funded 12 solar farms – either complete or under construction – and helped precipitate cost reductions and a boom in investment in large scale solar.

It has also contributed to numerous storage projects, including the feasibility study for Snowy 2.0, funding support for battery projects such as Wattle Point and the newly opened Lakeland solar and storage projects, and a large number of off-grid renewable and storage projects.

More recently it has focused on other storage projects, such as pumped hydro and hydrogen, numerous energy efficiency and demand response initiatives, and it has played a major and ongoing role in funding Australia’s leading R&D in both solar and associated technologies.

Frischknecht said the large scale solar was very important, and probably accelerated the cost reductions in large scale solar in Australia by 5 years.

“That process cut the cost of solar by 25 per cent in the space of a year, and now it is competitive with wind,” he said. “That program over-delivered even our expectations.”

He also pointed to continued reductions in solar PV, developments in off-grid where he said renewables now routinely part of the offering, for both mines and communities.

“And surviving during those tough times and continuing to do some good work,” he said.

Frydenberg also noted Frischknecht had strengthened key relationships between ARENA, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) and the CEFC.

“Frischknecht has provided the Government with sufficient notice of his intentions to allow a thorough search to be undertaken to find a suitable replacement and ensure a smooth handover,” the minister said.  

  • GlennM

    Terrible loss….they will replace him with a coal advocate like Limberg..

    • Barri Mundee

      Yes that is a definite worry.

  • Joe

    Talk about trying to kneecap an entity, a miracle that ARENA has survived. When will the next attempt come from The COALition to abolish ARENA. Lets hope that the Joshie doesn’t parachute John Pierce into the CEO position.

    • Greg Hudson

      It could be worse, parachuting Bananaby Joyce instead!

      • Joe

        He would be the perfect solution for The COALition in getting rid of ARENA. The Baaaaananabee has form on the board in seeing an authority go down the gurgler….his oversight of The Murray-Darling Basin is The Baaananabee at his appalling worst.

  • Rod

    Do we still give Knighthoods. Ivor gets my vote.

    • Joe

      Didn’t the Knighthoods go out with….Sir Tony.

    • Barri Mundee

      Australian of the year might be more appropriate?

      • Rod

        I like it. Imagine how that would go down with the COALition. Maybe we need to start a petition now.

  • Steve Jordan

    Arena, via its staff, CEO and its board, has demonstrated over its life many of the characteristics that we want to see in business these days, nimble, innovative and not to be deterred.
    So many thanks to Ivor and his team for changing the renewables landscape via his time at Arena, against near impossible odds at times. Many thanks again.

  • Andrew Thaler

    I’m sorry, but there was too much politics in the gifting of ARENA money to various projects.. ARENA gave shit loads of money to AGL and Origin, who as large corporate companies should have been able to fund that stuff by themselves.
    And I know a lot of smaller but really interesting Research and Development projects were ignored by ARENA because there wasn’t going to be enough of an announcement in them.
    If you can’t guess: I’m not a fan of ARENA.