A front page newspaper report claiming that the federal government’s $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation is up for sale has been hosed down – both by the Coalition, and by the green bank itself.
The Sydney Morning Herald story – published online as an “exclusive” late on Thursday night, and then splashed on the front page of the paper itself on Friday – claimed that private investment funds were “circling” the CEFC, hoping for a sale.
The article seems to base this on comments from CEFC chief Ian Learmonth and various market analysts to the effect of ‘the government can sell it if it wants, but probably doesn’t want to until there’s no longer a need for publicly funded support to the private sector.’
And it loosely quotes federal energy minister Angus Taylor as saying the CEFC played an important role in the energy market, but that it “must evolve” to avoid “duplication or competition with the private sector.”
So does this mean it is up for sale? No, it means the CEFC needs to evolve its investment focus, which is pretty much exactly what Learmonth said it was doing for the 2020 financial year, just a few weeks ago.
“The grid’s been the big challenge over the last 18 months or so, increasingly turning our attention to pumped storage, utility-scale batteries, household batteries, and other technologies that will help system strength and security,” he told RE in July, at the time of the CEFC’s annual investment update.
“If we’re there to be a catalyst, then that’s the important new frontier, rather than just continuing to invest in big solar and wind.”
Still, we had to ask. After all, this sort of thing does happen. As the SMH article notes, the UK’s Green Bank was bought for £2.3 billion [$3.9 billion] in 2017 by Australian financial services firm Macquarie.
And, as RenewEconomy readers would remember, the federal Coalition has not always seen eye to eye with the Labor Gillard government-created body.
So, is the government really looking to sell the CEFC?
“The government has no plans to sell CEFC,” an emailed statement from Taylor’s office said on Friday.
“The CEFC plays an important role in supporting clean energy outcomes in Australia’s energy market,” the statement said.
“To avoid duplication or competition with the private sector, the CEFC must evolve its focus towards supporting gaps in the market such as grid reliability.”
And from the CEFC:
“The CEFC works alongside private investors to attract more capital into projects to cut Australia’s emissions and address challenges associated with the energy transition. Our investments are made on behalf of Australian taxpayers.
As a statutory authority, established by the Australian Government under the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act 2012, questions about the CEFC’s ownership structure are a matter for Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, and the Australian Government.
“We note that Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently described the CEFC as the ‘world’s most successful green bank’. We agree.”
How good are green banks?!