Tony Abbott survives – but maybe only to give the Far Right enough time to find a new leader to prosecute their case. That’s bad news for climate and clean energy policies, as one international company confirms its portfolio of large-scale solar projects is effectively worthless under the current government.
Well, Malcolm Turnbull will not be in a position to save the renewable energy target after all. At least, not quite yet.
Hopes for a quick resolution to the policy gridlock that has stymied nearly $20 billion in renewable energy investment in Australia, and neutered its emissions reduction efforts, have been frustrated.
The Far Right has won the day in Canberra. International investors looking that $20 billion in large scale clean energy in Australia will now have to bide their time, or spend their money elsewhere.
The vote among Liberal Party MPs on Monday morning means Tony Abbott gets to stay in power, at least for a few days, weeks or months. But it underlines the huge divisions within the party between the traditional Liberals and the conservative Far Right.
The result showed 39 voting against Abbott. If the ministers stayed loyal, that means 2/3 of backbenchers wanted change, around the same proportion as the electorate. Team Abbott is no more. And, as Abbott himself suggested of Julia Gillard when she faced a similar vote, he has no mandate to govern.
The short-term reprieve for Abbott means that the conservative rump of the party has time to find another person to prosecute their case, and to complete the IPA’s check list of Things To Do To Australia. They know that Abbott is neither a long- or a medium-term proposition. A replacement, perhaps Scott Morrison, needs to be groomed for power.
This bodes badly for climate and clean energy policies in Australia, unless the moderates within the party can find a voice, and a candidate willing to declare himself thus. The ACT government’s wind energy auction announced last Friday illustrates what can be achieved: an ambitious goal, stable and sensible policy, and a heap of investment.
Unless Queensland and Victoria can adopt similar schemes, there is nothing left in Australia for those who missed out. It seems unlikely now that the Abbott government will be bothered to give any ground on its determination to reduce the renewable energy target to a shadow of what is currently legislated.
That is having a huge impact. Australia’s biggest project developers, Infigen Energy and Pacific Hydro, have ceased investing in their home country, and face financial problems. A Reuters report over the weekend highlighted the dilemma facing international companies. This is particularly the case with wind farms, but also with large solar developments.
Canadian Solar last week bought Recurrent Energy, a US company that has a 1.2GW portfolio in Australia of large-scale solar projects. But it basically paid nothing for it; a spokesman said that it came as a “free option” because of the policy uncertainty. The $265 million price tag was for the US portfolio.
Essentially, Australia’s renewable energy policy has rendered one of the largest renewable energy portfolios in the country worthless.
As we wrote last week, this is the last hurrah for the far Right. An energy revolution is sweeping the world, most people get it, but the conservatives don’t. As Greentech Media’s Energy Gang discussed last week, they still see solar (and wind) as a big green boondoggle promoted by a liberal politicians to benefit rich environmentalists.
“But for a growing number of libertarians and conservatives, solar is seen as a tool for promoting competition in electricity markets and empowering consumers,” Greentech Media noted.
Apart from Malcolm Turnbull, who hailed the onrushing energy revolution that will be delivered by solar, storage, electric vehicles and smart technologies that will connect all these things together, this energy revolution hasn’t filtered its way through to Australian conservatives yet, despite the fact that Australia is at the cutting edge.
It has the highest per capita rooftop solar penetration of any country, the best solar resources, and the most expensive delivery system of ageing centralised fossil fuels, thanks to its massive over-investment in a big, dumb grid.
The problem for Australia is that we also have a big, dumb Conservative establishment, typified by the voices we see in the Murdoch media.
Columnist Tim Blair on Monday captured the terror of the Far Right that the country might be drawn to the political centre. He described Turnbull as a “warmy” because he accepts the science of man-made climate change and as a “climate clown”, because he supports policies to reduce emissions.
Of course, Blair thinks this will lead to “economic ruin”. Andrew Bolt says Turnbull, a very rich investment banker, is too far to the left, and frets about Turnbull’s “global warming alarmism”
It would be laughable if this were just the rantings of a few whacky commentators, but they represent core policy in the Abbott government.
Key advisors such as Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton share the same views and have said as much. Infrastructure guru Tony Shepherd and banking advisor David Murray share similar misgivings about climate science, hence Australia will continue to build the “roads of the future” and infrastructure for thermal coal mining ventures”, and will do nothing about the systemic risk of “unburnable carbon”.
Corey Bernardi, who epitomises the fear that the country could be compromised by supporting such “radical” concepts as climate action and gay marriage, suggested the party was better off sticking to the conservative line, even if it meant oblivion at the next election.
That seems to be exactly what has transpired. As one commentator noted on the ABC website: ‘The Ship has elected to go down with the Captain.’