The Coalition government appears to have softened its stance on key bodies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and may even allow the CEFC to invest in wind energy.
Environment minister Greg Hunt told ABC Radio National on Tuesday that the Coalition – which had sought to ban the CEFC from investing in wind energy under the Abbott regime – may now support investment in emerging wind energy technologies.
Both the CEFC and ARENA had been slated for closure under Abbott, although both institutions were saved by opposition in the Senate. The two institutions have been moved to Hunt’s portfolio since the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to prime minister.
Hunt today praised ARENA for its $3.2 million investment in a solar plant at Rio Tinto’s Weipa bauxite operations, the largest installation of solar to date at a remote Australian mining facility.
But Hunt’s most interesting comments came on the future of the CEFC, and the fact that it could be allowed to invest in emerging wind technologies.
He said the CEFC had a mandate to focus on emerging technologies, but there was no blanket ban.
“What it would do is to focus on solar and geothermal … and if there are emerging components in relation to wind such as new turbines or offshore wind then that might be an appropriate way,” Hunt said. In theory, that could pave the way for investments in wind projects that may combine wind and battery storage, or wind and solar, such as the massive project in north Queensland.
Hunt said the renewables industry should feel “very supported” under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his focus on innovation.
“What has changed is a greater emphasis on confidence and innovation in the renewable energy sector,” Hunt told RN.
Hunt and Queensland MP Warren Entsch were gushing in their support for ARENA’s investment in the Weipa solar project, which is located in Entsch’s electorate of Leichhardt.
“The first phase of the project is set to displace up to 600,000 litres of diesel each year and reduce Weipa’s greenhouse gas emissions by close to 1,600 tonnes a year. It’s good for business, good for communities and good for the environment,” Hunt said.
Entsch said the project’s learnings could have a reach that extended well beyond Australian shores.
“This …is another great example of leading renewable energy innovation being delivered right here in Queensland’s Western Cape by business and government,” Entsch said.
“As well as keeping Australia at the forefront of global innovation, projects like this bring jobs and training opportunities and align well with the government’s focus on developing Northern Australia.”