Climate Change Authority chairman Bernie Fraser says he is “sick and disappointed” by the rhetoric surrounding renewable energy and the effective stranding of the country’s renewable energy industry by the Tony Abbott Coalition government.
Fraser says investment in large-scale renewables was being cut back and delayed, and it was quite likely that the current 41,000GWh target would not be reached because of the uncertainty caused by Abbott’s new RET review.
The CCA in late 2012 rejected attempts by the incumbent coal-fired industry and network operators to wind back the RET, saying it had clear benefits and little cost to consumers.
However, one of its chief recommendations, to replace the two-yearly review with a four-yearly review to provide the market with certainty, was not adopted by the then Labor government, clearing the way for Abbott to commission another review. This review, being led by a panel led by climate change denier and pro-nuclear advocate Dick Warburton, rather than the CCA, has effectively stalled investment.
“Investment is actually being cut back and delayed, and I think because of that I think it is apparent that the 41,000GWh for large-scale renewable energy power plans it not going to happen,” Fraser told the ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program.
“ I think that is what the opponents and the critics of renewable energy want to see.”
Asked about the political rhetoric around renewables in Australia, Fraser said:
“It makes me feel sick and disappointed. Policy makers need to look beyond short-term economic considerations and the interests of some of the big companies, and to longer term community interests. That’s what governments are supposed to do. Unfortunately, it’s not happening at the present time.
“It’s very disappointing that we are we falling behind, and we are falling behind what many other countries are doing.”
Fraser’s comments about the stalling in projects is supported by data that shows no new large-scale renewable energy projects have been committed since the start of 2013. The only four projects that are going ahead are those supported by either the ACT government’s auction scheme, the now defunct solar flagships proposal, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which the government wants to close.
The appointment of Warburton, the narrow terms of reference that ignores many of the benefits of renewables, and the hiring of a consultancy firm whose highly contested modeling formed the basis of the coal industry’s attack on the RET in 2012, has left the renewables industry despondent about its future.
The Australian Solar Council predicts that the entire government rebate for small-scale rooftop systems could be removed. Larger project developers believe that the 41,000GWh will be severely diluted.
“We know that the government is going side with big business,” ASC’s chief executive John Grimes told the program.
“They want to protect the big utilities. And the way they will do that is to eliminate all support for rooftop solar. And we think that that’s outrageous.”
Matthew Warren, the head of the Energy Supply Association of Australia, which represents major suppliers, says the RET is “broken” and needs to be wound back.
The ABC said that neither Industry minister Ian Macfarlane, whose portfolio covers energy, nor environment minister Greg Hunt would agree to be interviewed for the program.
(We recommend the program as an excellent backgrounder on the economics and the politics of renewables. RenewEconomy even makes some cameo appearances!)