The resignation of Jacqui Lambie from the Palmer United Party on Monday has added yet another layer of confusion to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target policy saga, with only one thing looking certain: the target is destined to be sliced and diced.
The question is, who will wield the knife? Will it be the Coalition, or a so-called “coalition of common sense”?
Lambie has previously vowed to block all Abbott government changes, not least of all the RET, and can now more easily do so from her new position on the cross benches.
But according to The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor, DLP Senator David Leyonhjelm is courting cross-bench votes for his own version of a plan to wind back the RET after Lambie indicated she could vote for RET changes if the government makes concessions over defence force pay.
Leyonhjelm says a loose “coalition of common sense” of independent and minor party senators have a range of concerns about the existing RET – which requires 41,000 gigawatt hours of electricity to be sourced from renewables by 2020.
“I am working on an alternative crossbench proposal … it is nowhere near final but it would solve some of the problems we are facing … including the problem of hitting the penalty price,” Leyonhjelm told Guardian Australia.
“I have a plan on the table and I’m trying to get the crossbench numbers on that now.”
Leyonhjelm and Family First senator Bob Day support a reduction in the RET, and Day told the Guardian he strongly supported Lambie’s call for the inclusion of existing hydro in the scheme.
This, in fact, is not that far different from what Clive Palmer was considering, when he canvassed earlier this month the possibility of including pre-existing hydro. As we noted in our story, Can Palmer be trusted to save the RET, all conservative parties seem to be working to the same outcome, to cut the RET from the current 41,000GWh target.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has been on record saying the government suppers a “51,000GWjh” target, but that would include pre-existing hydro (15,000GWh) and rooftop solar (10,000GWh). So the result is the 26,000GWh for new generation that they are seeking under their “real 20 per cent” scenario.
(Right now, the pre-existing hydro in Tasmania and Snowy River only claim RET certificates (LGCs) if they produce above a certain baseline. Including them in the RET officially would mean that facilities built decades ago would get a subsidy, but the equivalent amount of new generation (wind or solar) would not.
As for the newly independent Lambie, who quit the PUP this morning after an ongoing feud with the party’s founder and leader Clive Palmer, she is on the record as opposing the proposed wind-back of the 20 per cent by 2020 renewables target, describing it as an “illegitimate reform.”
Lambie has also claimed the RET to be of vital economic importance for Tasmania, and that axing it would threaten thousands of jobs; indeed, the state’s renewables industry is still smarting from Hydro Tasmania’s dumping of a $2 billion wind farm planned for King Island, a decision that has at least partly been attributed to uncertainty surrounding the RET.
But she’s not exactly pro-renewables either, having once indicated she would be open to discussions with the government about its plan to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – which has so far been opposed by the two remaining PUP senators, as well as Muir and Xenophon.
Here’s some of Lambie in a speech to Parliament on her resignation:
“We’re having great difficulties down in Tasmania. There’s 10,000 direct and indirect jobs on the line here over the RET and the clean finance situation that we’re in, so I just want to get to the bottom of it. I’d like to see also with Tasmania that the hydro … is counted … it’s 100% renewable energy down in Tasmania and basically we’ve been getting the worst end when it comes to the RET.
“I am now free to negotiate with the government and other members of this parliament in good faith and for the best interests of my Tasmania, for reform of the following matters: the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the renewable energy target.”