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Australian Renewable Energy Industry In Hot Water

It will come as no surprise to most to read that the Australian renewable energy industry is in hot water — and like the unlucky frog from urban legends, the water is steadily boiling the industry alive.

Mixed metaphors aside, this week has seen several indicators to back up the hyperbole that has been thrashing around the Australian political sphere ever since Prime Minister Tony Abbott took office in September of 2013. Critics have lambasted Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey, and the Liberal Government in general over environmental and energy issues since day one. And Mr Abbott has done nothing to quieten their judgement — scrapping the country’s carbon tax, appointing climate sceptics to review Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, specifically asking the head of the review to investigate abolishing the RET, and receiving in return a Review which favoured weakening or phasing-out the RET.

As a result, Australia’s renewable energy industry — as well as the Labor opposition party — have taken Mr Abbott and the Liberal Government to task, time and time again, warning them of the danger incumbent in meddling with the RET in any shape or form.

A recent graph published by the Australian Energy Market Operator shows almost all the installed renewable energy in Australia (excluding a few remote areas).

aemo-renewables

Messing with an industry that is having such an impact is not only unwise and detrimental to thousands of workers across the country, it’s downright imbecilic.

Mr Abbott has been faced with terrific opposition, not only in the media and from his natural opponents, but where it counts, in the Senate, where any attempt to roll back the RET has been vigorously blocked. However, there’s only so long these blocks can hold out when money is on the line. While Clive Palmer is rattling his sabres, his time in power may come to an end with the next election, and if the Liberal government can make a deal with their Labor opposition, then his words may be all for nought anyway.

The warnings of renewable energy proponents have been backed up this week by the release of the fourth annual Global Green Economy Index published by analytics firm Dual Citizen. And while Australia appear to be a green world leader, the reality is that we are falling far behind the rest of the world with each passing month.

The Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) rates not only a country’s perceived action but also its actual performance. As I wrote about previously, while Australia ranks 11th on the Perception rank, its actual performance places it 37th out of 60 countries analysed. According to the GGEI, Australia ranks last on the Leadership & Climate Change dimension (as seen below), “due to negative media coverage, unconstructive behavior in international forums and poor climate change performance.”

GGEIAustralia

Given a report card like that, one would hope the Australian Government would sit up and take notice of their most recent behaviour.

One Wrong Step After Another

Except, they’re not. In fact, today’s newspapers are all covering the story that Mr Abbott and the Liberal Government are rejecting attempts to broker a deal.

The Labor opposition have been pushing for the existing 41,000 GWh of energy to come from renewable energy sources by 2020 — with possible exceptions for the aluminium industry. The 41,000 figure comes from 20% of the estimated electricity generation for 2020 — a figure which has since declined due to low electricity demand. The Liberal government therefore want to reduce the target to approximately 26,000 GWh.

“It won’t be a 27 per cent Renewable Energy Target. It will be a 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target, which I think is what Australia signed up for,” said Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane today, in response to questions about the opening of negotiations between the two parties.

However, it looks like the Labor party have already rejected this proposal. Labor Leader Bill Shorten told reporters today that his party had made it clear it is open to discussing the target, but that they have set “no-go zones” which they will uphold.

“The government say they want a real 20 per cent, I call it a fraud 20 per cent, a fake 20 per cent. The truth of the matter is that renewable energy is part of our energy mix. It’s had a great benefit for a whole lot of consumers,” Mr Shorten said. “We’ve seen thousands of jobs created…and we’ve seen billions of dollars of investment. The real damage that this government’s doing in renewable energy cannot be overstated.”

Fighting for its Life, the CCA Kicks On

One of the key strategies of the Liberal party’s attack on the environment was abolishing Australia’s Climate Change Authority — an independent governmental body aimed at providing expert advice on the Government’s climate change mitigation initiatives (a very telling statement of the Government’s intentions — why have such a governmental body when you don’t intend to make any climate change mitigation initiatives).

However, before they’re done and dusted for good — and hopefully they won’t be — the CCA are proceeding with their own Renewable Energy Target review, only months after the “Warburton Review” handed in their results. This would be the second Review the CCA has conducted in two years — the first one finding no major changes were required to Australia’s RET.

“Key considerations for reviewing the RET are the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the CCA said. “In the absence of alternative policies to decarbonise Australia’s electricity supply, severely curtailing the RET would risk stalling Australia’s progress at a time when climate change science makes it clear that rapid reductions in emissions are required.”

That the Australian renewable energy industry is facing an uncertain future is something of an understatement, and one that should never have come to pass. Adding up the benefits to the economy, employment rates, investment, technological advancement, and the underlying need for Australia to divest herself of her utter reliance upon coal so that the country can continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, the fight at the next election is going to be a nasty one.

Here’s hoping, whoever comes out on top, the Australian people will have made it clear that clean and renewable energy combined with combating global pollution levels is a priority the government needs to address.

 
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I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

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