Life isn’t easy for environmental policies these days. It seems every one of them is up for constant negotiation. Sometimes it feels like some policies are always under review. Take Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, for instance.
The policy, first initiated by the Liberal government under bipartisan agreement in 2001, aims to increase the proportion of renewable energy contributing to Australia’s electricity supply. The current target of at least 20 per cent renewable electricity by 2020 was set in 2009 by the then Labor Government. Since then there has been very little that this poor old policy could rely on – not the types of energy sources included under its name, or the kinds of energy users that would have to contribute to its goal, or even the administration of the scheme. In spite of apparent ‘bipartisan support’ for the scheme politicians fuel the flames created by industries that the target should be lowered or that some industries are suffering and should be excluded from the scheme. In turn, government continually reviews the scheme, creating greater uncertainty for Australian renewable companies.
2014 – A rundown….
Previous years have been bad, but 2014 seems to have been even worse for the unfortunate Renewable Energy Target…
- 17 February 2014 – The Federal Government announces the 2014 Review of the RET. The review is to be headed by Dick Warburton, an anthropogenic climate change sceptic. The review should have been done by the Climate Change Authority, as it is bound by legislation to undertake biennial reviews of the scheme.
- 24 April 2014 – Following the consultation period, renewable energy industry insiders claim the Warburton review is ‘anti-renewables’. Claims were based on the contracting of coal-favoured ACIL Allen as the review modellers, the exclusion of health and employment benefits of renewables in modelling, and pessimistic forecasts on the cost of renewables.
- 27 May 2014 – Brad Archer from the Review Secretariat admits in federal parliament that the Climate Change Authority will be required to undertake their own review of the RET in 2014 if the Authority is not abolished.
- 25 June 2014 – Clive Palmer, assumed to be anti-renewables based on previous climate denier statements and because of his interests in coal, shocks the nation by standing alongside Al Gore to announce his support for maintenance of the RET in its current form.
- 18 August 2014 – The Australian Financial Review reports sources claiming Abbott has deferred release of the Warburton Review, asking for consideration of an option to close the RET entirely.
- 28 August 2014 – The Warburton Review of the RET is released. Key recommendations include winding back or scrapping sections of the RET – all while admitting the RET will reduce electricity tariffs by 2030.
- 18 September 2014 – The opposition rules out negotiating on reducing the target under the RET.
- 30 September 2014 – The opposition agrees to begin negotiations around the RET, as an act of ‘courtesy’ and to get this ‘important policy back on the rails’.
- 7 October 2014 – The opposition agrees to aluminium smelter exemption from the RET, in a move they hope will lead to agreement on the future of the scheme.
- 8 October 2014 – The Warburton Review is widely rejected by the Cabinet. Prime Minister Abbott is undeterred, saying the Warburton Review was only ever ‘a starting point’. Renewable energy industry is left wondering what the point of it might have been.
- 22 October 2014 – The opposition rejects Government’s opening proposition in negotiations, but seeks to continue discussions. Meanwhile, the Climate Change Authority announces its own Review. The Review will not seek public consultation but instead will use existing data in the hope to expedite the review process.
- 12 November 2014 – The opposition walks away from negotiations, claiming the Government is not willing to make compromises on their proposed target.
- 20 November 2014 – In a near-historic move (it was done previously in 2009), the Australian Aluminium and Clean Energy Councils unite, calling for a decision on the RET to end uncertainty for industry.
- 7 December 2014 – The Government requests the opposition re-enter negotiations.
- 9 December 2014 – The opposition states a reluctance to re-join negotiations if the Government does not intend to shift positions around the target.
- 18 December 2014 – The opposition and the Clean Energy Council combine forces to propose all trade-exposed industry be exempt from the RET, which could meet Government half way.
- 22 December 2014 – The Climate Change Authority releases its recommendations – calling for maintenance of the existing target, but deferral of the end date to 2023.
- 31 December 2014 – The year ends. No formal decision has been made surrounding the RET’s future.
And meanwhile, in the real world…
Life continued for the renewable energy industry in Australia, albeit in fits and starts. There were some high points, and there were some low points…
- Bloomberg Investment states a 70% drop in large-scale Australian renewable energy investment in the year ending September 2014.
- IFM investment group accepts a $685 million write-down on their Pacific Hydro plant, citing uncertainty resulting from the Warburton Review, reduced electricity demand and changes to tax rates.
- Solar giant Suntech closes its Australian Research and Development base, citing uncertainty in policy as a key factor in its decision.
- Silex Systems announces its $420 million solar project near Mildura would not go ahead.
- An Australian wind turbine producer, Keppel Prince Engineering, announces it will axe 100 jobs (although the final number was 85).
- The long-running Sustainable Energy Association, formerly the Western Australian Sustainable Energy Association, closes its doors citing falling memberships and lobbying difficulties.
There was, however, some good news…
The best stories show Australia’s passion for renewable energy and enthusiasm for its development does not wane, even in the face of policy uncertainty.
- Carnegie Wave Energy finally announces its CETO 5 unit is up and running off Garden Island in Western Australia.
- Australian solar researchers at the University of New South Wales smash solar photovoltaic efficiency records, converting over 40% of sunlight hitting a solar system to electricity.
- The CSIRO shows Australian innovation in solar won’t be left behind, developing solar technology to generate the highest temperature ‘supercritical’ steam outside of using fossil fuel resources, and working with Melbourne and Monash universities to develop ‘printable’ solar panels.
- One of Australia’s most iconic landmarks (and often home to the Prime Minister) Kirribilli House is to be given the gift of solar, courtesy of Sydney-based church leaders at Common Grace, with the Australian Solar Council footing the bill for its installation.
Fingers crossed 2015 will see better days for the RET – and for all renewable energy enthusiasts in Australia. What would you like to see happen with renewable energy in 2015?