Signs are emerging of what promises to be a fractious relationship between the Australian renewable energy industry and its newest government representative, Angus Taylor.
The federal energy minister and member for the NSW regional electorate of Hume, has come under attack from two separate community solar groups this week, for both his pointed lack of support, and for his broader role in the return of energy market uncertainty under the new Morrison leadership.
One group, Community Energy For Goulburn (CE4G), claims its project – a council approved 1.8MW PV farm in the NSW city’s southern tablelands, and in Taylor’s own electorate – has now been put on hold indefinitely, due to financial uncertainty.
CE4G President, Ed Suttle, announced the delay at the group’s AGM on Thursday night, citing a state government grant being put on hold, and the renewed political instability stirred up by changes in the LNP.
“This is a 25-year project, and the instability caused by the federal government’s constant merry-go-round of pronouncements just makes it impossible to predict where we will be in six months, let alone 25 years,” Suttle said.
The community-based Goulburn project has been in the works since 2014 – we first wrote about it here – but had recently gained momentum with council approval given in May 2017.
It should be noted that CE4G is not alone in trying to get a solar project up in the region – in fact, it is one of several, including the massive 600MW Parkesbourne Solar Farm, being proposed by CWP Renewables.
But Suttle claims it is the federal government policy uncertainty, and distinct lack of interest in renewables now evident in Canberra, that is doing the damage.
“Once the state and federal governments can sort out who they really want to support and what kind of future they want for our children and grandchildren we might be able to re-activate the solar farm project and start producing energy for this local community who will own it at the same time,” he said.
“International experience has demonstrated that community energy can stand on its feet within a relatively short time, but needs government support in its start-up phase, just like fossil fuel generation had when governments built all the power stations.
“Mr Taylor seems hell bent on promoting old dirty technology when all around him in Hume renewable energy is staring him in the face, and bringing income into the region.
“I just cannot understand why he is so stuck on coal and has refused to offer any kind of assistance to a community energy project right on his back door.”
But Taylor – who, despite his well known dislike of wind farms, claims to support and understand renewables, and to “use solar technology” on his own farm – is upsetting solar folk outside of his electorate, too.
Renewables lobby group Solar Citizens says it was “stood up” by the energy minister, the day before a scheduled Canberra meeting to deliver an open letter urging him not to close the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) nine years early.
The early closure of the SRES was one of the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, as a result of its review of Australia’s high electricity prices.
Little has been said about the package of ACCC recommendations since the Turnbull was ousted as Prime Minister by Scott Morrison, but their adoption has certainly not been ruled out.
In an email to RE, Solar Citizens said representatives were already en route to Canberra with the petition – signed by 6,000 so far – when “we received an email from his office to let us know that he was too busy to see us.”
“Instead of meeting, Minister Taylor wants us to send our letter in the mail, but that’s not going to fly,” said Solar Citizens national director Joseph Scales.
“The overwhelming response that we’ve received for our open letter goes to show that Australians everywhere support the SRES and absolutely don’t want to see it wound up early.
“The more signatures we get, the harder it will be for the Minister to fob us off again.”
And while “fobbing off” a solar industry lobby group might not sound all that serious, politicians are quickly learning that the rooftop solar vote is not to be sneezed at – particularly not so close to the next federal election.
“We came out of the blocks early to get the attention of the new Minister, so he would know from the very start how much community support there is for solar, and schemes that help households take back control of their electricity bills,” Scales said.
“Unfortunately, it seems like the new Energy Minister is too busy bad-mouthing renewable energy subsidies in the media to give Australia’s 1.9 million plus solar households, and many more supporters, the time of day.
“We’re going to keep making a noise for the SRES until Angus Taylor agrees to meet with us and receive the letter.”