Pop news quiz: Which Australian politician said the following this week: “It gives me great pleasure today to share my views on the required ‘green shift’ toward a more vibrant, resilient and low emissions society.”
If you answered Richard di Natale, you are wrong. It was Greg Hunt, in a speech titled “Australia’s Green Shift”, delivered to Australia’s Norwegian Embassy on Wednesday.
Yes, the federal environment minister – who as recently as July this year described the Labor Opposition’s comparatively ambitious renewable energy and emissions reduction targets “a triple-hit on electricity prices” – is now all about shifting to green, and wants everyone to know it.
“The Australian Government is driving this transformation in Australia and working globally to build a future that reflects the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said – a sentence it is safe to say he would never had uttered under his former boss, Tony Abbott.
But with Malcolm Turnbull now at the helm, Hunt is keen to change the Coalition’s message from one that equates strong renewables growth with high electricity prices and the winding back of fossil fuels with economic doom.
“This government is delivering more renewable energy and lower electricity bills,” he said at the launch of a new renewable energy mapping tool on Friday.
“This important work by UTS, supported by the Australian government through ARENA, is a step towards reducing peak electricity demand and showing where renewables can add the most value.”
In the above example from last week, and in Hunt’s Norwegian speech this week, one of the most notable changes in Hunt’s tone has been to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – two of the major legacies left by the former Labor government’s Clean Energy Future policy.
The two renewable energy investment and research and development drivers have been fighting for their lives since the Coalition came into power in 2013, when Abbott made it one of its missions to dismantle both institutions, but settled for stripping them of funds when he couldn’t get the support of the Senate.
Indeed various senior members of the former Abbott government have described the CEFC as a “giant green hedge fund”, a tax payer-funded supporter of projects the private sector won’t touch, and “a honeypot to every white-shoe salesman imaginable.”
ARENA, meanwhile, via the Coalition’s carbon repeal deal, had its funding by around $800 million on Hunt’s watch.
But in his speech at the Norwegian Embassy, the new Greg Hunt was full of praise for ARENA and the CEFC, listing them as one of the “successes and tangible outcomes” his government had overseen.
“The Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency are our major instruments to research, develop, test, and demonstrate emerging technology and solutions,” Hunt said.
“For instance the $350 million support package for large-scale solar power led by the two agencies will foster the development of clean, affordable solar technologies.
“The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is acting as a catalyst to unlock private investment in clean technologies. For example the Corporation is investing $125 million in a $400 million trust to upgrade the energy performance of older office buildings.
“By stepping in early to engage with proponents and be the cornerstone financier for leading edge projects, the Corporation has achieved the remarkable result of attracting $1.80 of private finance for every dollar it invests.
“The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is supporting cutting edge deployment in complementary areas such as providing around $268 million to support two of the largest on‑grid solar PV projects in the Southern Hemisphere, in the New South Wales towns of Nyngan and Moree.
“These projects will improve Australia’s knowledge and expertise in utility scale solar energy project development and grid integration.
“This is in addition to the $164 million it has invested in 38 solar thermal projects, and the $43 million it has invested in five wave energy technology projects.”
And while we welcome this change in tone, it is worth noting that the ARENA, CEFC and CCA Abolition Bills are still on the House of Representatives and Senate Notice Papers, meaning the government hasn’t formally changed their policies to abolish them.
An industry source notes that removing them would be easy to do, if they were serious about changing direction – especially considering they still don’t have the numbers in the Senate to get any of the Bills passed.