The chair of the Climate Change Authority, Bernie Fraser, has made his first public utterances, declaring that the much anticipated and keenly watched review of the renewable energy target is under way. Fraser said the process for the RET review had been discussed at the CCA’s first board meeting on Tuesday. It intends to release an issues paper in August, release a discussion paper in October, and complete the review by 2012.
Although a 20 per cent target remains bi-partisan policy, there now appears to be a discussion about what 20 per cent means – the fixed 41,000 gigawatt hour target enshrined in the legislation, or a fixed percentage. Companies such as Origin Energy want the goalposts to be moved and placed on wheels, so they can be adjusted to reflect changing demand. Most others want the target fixed at the 41,000GWh capacity, warning that it would result in the decimation of a nascent industry if it were changed, and that if it results in producing more than 20 per cent because of changes in demand, then that is not a bad thing. The outcome of the RET review will be critical for wind, solar and other renewable developers.
“Over the coming six months, we will be examining the operation of the Renewable Energy Target scheme, its Act and regulations, taking into account certain criteria including economic efficiency, environmental effectiveness, equity and the impact on the community and business,” Fraser, a former head of the Reserve Bank of Australia, said in a statement. “Feedback from the businesses and community members affected by the scheme will be an important source of information for the Review as the Authority examines the wide range of issues over the coming months.”
The Climate Change Minister is required to respond in a written statement to recommendations made by the Authority, and must do so within six months of receiving the report. That would take the decision to within a few months of the next election. The authority will also provide advice on the operation of Australia’s carbon price, emissions reduction targets, caps and trajectories, and other Australian Government climate change initiatives.
Solar displaces wind
Is this a sign of things to come in the Australian renewables industry? AGL Energy has indicated this week that the start of construction on the massive 1,000 megawatt Silverton wind farm near Broken Hill will be pushed back two years to make way for the 159MW solar farm to be built under the Solar Flagships program. AGL Energy’s general manager for power development Scott Thomas and manager of solar development, Doug Landfear, were in Broken Hill last week for a series of community meetings over plans for the wind farm and solar plant, which is spread between Broken Hill and Nyngan.
Thomas told local media that timing for even the first stage of Silverton – likely to be a 250-300MW project, has been “moved a little” because of the solar flagships project, and was not likely to begin construction in 2015, when the solar plant is finished. Many in the industry have predicted that solar PV will displace many planned wind projects as solar PV comes down the cost curve in coming years. The AGL Energy solar farm may be the first instance of that displacement, even if AGL Energy’s solar plant is accelerated because of the grants it will get from the government.
NSW Government slashes green workforce
The NSW state government says it will axe at least 350 jobs as part of “sweeping reforms” to the Office of Environment and Heritage. Environment Minister Robyn Parker said the measures would save about $100 million over the next four years. Cuts include a 20 per cent reduction in senior area managers for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and follow cuts of about 80 jobs the department of environment and heritage in 2011-12.