Mixed Greens: ARENA faces funding cuts in budget carbon shuffle

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Reports ARENA is facing cuts of up to $200m. Plus: Dyesol’s tech ‘quantum leap’; UK Green Bank commits £635 million to 11 projects.

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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is facing cuts of up to 10 per cent of its $2.2 billion of uncommitted funds in the search for savings to compensate for revenue writedowns caused by the collapse in international carbon prices. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet confirmed on Wednesday that an increase in the tax-free threshold from $18,200 to $19,400 – a $1.59-a-week tax cut for people earning $80,000 – would be deferred on news that the $29-a-tonne forecast for the 2015-16 carbon price would be revised down due of a collapse in the EU price to less than $5. Combet said the lower carbon price meant the additional compensation would not be needed, and that it would be reinstated when the carbon price reached $25.40.

The development has, however, sent the federal government on a hunt for savings of more than $3 billion to recoup revenue losses on a predicted price of about $15 a tonne. And The Australian newspaper has today reported sources claiming that ARENA – the independent body established to oversee research, development, demonstration, deployment and commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies as part of the federal government’s clean energy future package – was set to take a cut of about $200 million in an effort to keep the carbon tax package “broadly revenue-neutral”. Asked whether ARENA or other clean energy programs would take a cut, Combet told the paper: “there will be offsetting savings, as I say, for the changes that we will announce in the budget”.

Any cuts to ARENA funding would no doubt be opposed by the Greens, who have pinpointed potential savings through the axing of $750 million in funding for carbon capture and storage. Funding for renewable energy research and development through an independent agency was a key part of the deal negotiated by the Greens through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee in return for a lower carbon price.

Dyesol’s efficiency game changer

ASX listed dye solar cell technology company Dyesol has announced what it describes as a “game changing” technical breakthrough, achieving a solid-state DSC efficiency of 11.3 per cent at full sun – up from 5 per cent in 2010. The breakthrough – news of which lifted the company’s shares by 127 per cent during Wednesday trade – comes as the technology transitions from liquid-based to solid-state systems as it prepares for commercialisation.

Dyesol says it is also confident of achieving industrial efficiencies greater than 10 per cent because of the added simplicity of working with solid-state systems. This would make the technology grid competitive, says the company – “the ‘holy grail’ for renewable energy technologies.” The achievement is particularly important in solar markets where light conditions are sub-optimal, such as Europe, North America and North-East Asia, where Dyesol technology has a considerable advantage over 1st and 2nd generation photovoltaic technologies.

“The business case for solar remains compelling, however there is every reason to question which technologies will emerge from the current solar industry maelstrom as winners,” said Dyesol Chairman Richard Caldwell. “Today’s announcement represents a quantum leap for Dyesol and its’ commercialisation partners and we look forward to a rapid transition from the laboratory to the production line”.

And in other news…

The UK’s pioneering £3 billion-dollar Green Investment Bank has committed £635 million to almost a dozen wind, waste and energy-efficiency projects around the country in its first five months. The deals, announced on Thursday, pulled in another £1.7 billion of private funds, meaning that a total of £2.3 billion will be invested in 11 UK green projects. UK business secretary Vince Cable highlighted the Drax coal power plant project in Yorkshire, which is to be converted to biomass generation after the green bank put in £100m – matched by almost £900m of private funding.

And a unit of Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings plans to invest $US1.9 billion to build additional wind farms in Iowa that would increase the state’s wind generating capacity by about half. Bloomberg reports that MidAmerican Energy, Iowa’s largest utility, plans to build as much as 1,050MW of new wind power plants in the state, adding to about 2.9GW of projects that it already owns and operates.

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