With the battle to axe the carbon price now won by Tony Abbott’s “climate science is crap” Coalition, the attention of those in opposition has turned to the plight of the nation’s renewable energy sector.
One of the major concerns – apart from the battle to prevent the evisceration of ARENA and the axing of the CEFC – centres around what the carbon tax repeal will mean for Australia’s 1.1 million solar households – most of which have been shown to house lower income families.
This is because, as a result of last week’s Senate shenanigans, the Palmer United Party saw through an amendment to the Bill that allows the ACCC to enforce “any entity that produces electricity” to pass on the drop in electricity prices that is expected to result from the carbon tax repeal – including, plausibly, households whose rooftop solar panels export power to the grid.
“Last week, the government was desperate enough to incorporate the amendments as-is,” said Greens leader Christine Milne in a statement on Wednesday. “Now the government has incorporated amendments they can’t explain, which don’t do any of the things that Clive Palmer has made a big fuss about saying they would do.”
“The changes to the repeal bill will be a ridiculous impost on everyone who has a solar panel on their roof, or even places like the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne that has a co-generation plant, because Mr Palmer’s amendment applies to anyone who sells electricity,” Milne said.
“The whole thing is a joke. Clive Palmer has clearly been conned by the Abbott government. His amendments don’t do what he says they will do.”
Last week, the ACCC responded to the Greens’ concerns by saying it would be guided in its application of the law by a statement made by the environment minister, Greg Hunt, when he reintroduced the bill into the lower house.
“I confirm that the definition of electricity retailer is limited to electricity retailers and electricity producers selling electricity into a wholesale electricity market to a retailer,” Hunt said.
“The intention is that this exclude small and industrial electricity generators, who either consume all their own generation on-site, or sell it directly to a retailer without engaging in the wholesale electricity market.”
But Martijn Wilder, a partner at Baker & McKenzie, told The Guardian that “on a plain reading, the law does apply to power sold from solar roof panels,” and that the letter of the law did not reflect the assurances Minister Hunt had given. “At best,” he said, “it is legally ambiguous.”
The ACCC has since told Australian Greenhouse Network Members – that is, industry groups and individual businesses liable to pay the carbon tax – that despite “ambiguity” in the final form of the carbon repeal bills, the ACCC would only enforce price reductions for electricity and gas retailers and bulk importers of synthetic gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning.