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.