The Abbott government says it remains determined to slash the size of the renewable energy target, insisting it wants to cut the target by nearly 40 per cent, despite a rejection of the offer by Labor more than a week ago.
As Opposition leader Bill Shorten called a meeting of unions, industry, and renewable energy leaders on Monday, there was no sign that the deadlock that has brought the industry to a halt for the last two years could be resolved.
The Abbott government issued a statement saying that its position is unmoved from that dismissed by Labor. Industry minister Ian Macfarlane and environment minister Greg Hunt confirmed they want the large scale target cut from 41,000GWh to 31,000GWh. Given that 16,000GWh has already been built, this cuts the task for the remaining five years by around 40 per cent.
The Abbott government is dressing this new target up by adding back into the target the expected deployment of rooftop solar. This equates to around 14,000GWh, bringing the target back to 45,000GWh. As RenewEconomy foreshadowed in late February, the government is arguing that there is effectively no change.
However, the small scale target was separated from the large scale target several years ago, and left uncapped. Far from being a “doubling” of renewable energy as claimed by environment minister Greg Hunt, it is effectively a massive cut to the big target.
The continuing deadlock came as news emerged that Pacific Hydro, one of the biggest developers of renewable energy in Australia, has put its development pipeline on hold indefinitely and is cutting its staff by 25 per cent.
Shorten said on Sunday that it was important to reach a deal before Easter, for the sake of the aluminium industry as much as the clean energy industry.
His meeting was designed to form a strategy to achieve that, and keep the target above Labor’s bottom line of 35,000000GWh.
Indeed, Hunt said that Shorten was under pressure to meet the government’s claim, but those attending the meeting said that Labor received no mandate for lowering its offer below 35,000GWh, a level that many in the clean energy industry say will effectively gut the industry. That leaves the two main parties no closer to a solution, and with some doubt about whether the Coalition – given its appointment of the Warburton review and its extensive delays – is serious about sealing a deal.
Indeed, Hunt said that the Coalition had already gone “two-thirds” of the way towards the Labor position, but that is only true if you accept that its original stance was to kill the RET altogether, which it may well have been. At least, that was one of the main recommendations of the RET Review.
Amusingly, the Labor team told the 17 industry groups at the meeting that negotiating with the Coalition on the RET was like “wrestling with smoke”. Many simply believe there is no interest of a compromise on behalf of the government because of the benefits a standstill in renewables brings to the coal industry.
One positive outcome from the Hunt/Macfarlane press release was that it confirmed there would be no changes to small scale solar, and if a deal is agreed, an end to the 2-year review cycle.
Shorten held a media briefing following the meeting, but no questions about the RET were asked by the assembled Canberra journalists, typically engrossed in the minutae of Canberra politicking, and Chris Pyne’s eyebrows.
The Greens, however, said there was no need to cut the target, noting that the future of energy is in renewables as are jobs.
“The RET is not broken; the old model of energy generation is broken, but the Liberals are intent on propping it up as long as possible,” said Greens leader Senator Christine Milne.
“Labor must not cave in to the government. We need to stick with 41,000 gigawatt hours and the government will back down,” she said.
“They backed down on Medicare co-payments, they’re going to be defeated on university deregulation, and we should defeat them in their attack on renewable energy.
“The Abbott government’s attack on the RET is about securing a sustainable future for their mates in the fossil fuel sector, no one else.”