Up in the air
The Abbott government and the renewable energy industry are 1,500 gigawatt hours away from an agreement on the RET...but Ian Macfarlane won't budge.
Yesterday, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) – the renewable energy industry’s peak body – suggested that the Coalition and Labor might split their differences on the Renewable Energy Target (RET). When Labor was in government it mandated that 20% of Australia’s energy would be generated by renewables by the year 2020. That equated to 41,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity, at the then rate of energy generation. Since then, demand for energy has fallen in Australia. As a result, the established fossil fuel energy generators wanted the Coalition to adopt a “real 20%” target of 27,000 GWh. After promising before the election that it wouldn’t touch Labor’s RET, the Coalition – torn between Tony Abbott’s favoured option of scrapping the target entirely and environment minister Greg Hunt’s preference to scale it back – commissioned a review by climate sceptic Dick Warburton who recommended dramatic cuts. Last year, the Coalition government settled on the fossil fuel industry’s preferred target of 27,000 GWh.
The Greens (who consider a 100% RET the best prospect in terms of both jobs and emissions) and the crossbench senators flatly refused to countenance any scaling back of the RET, and Labor at first refused to budge from its original target of 41,000 GWh. But Labor, concerned by both reports of uncertainty spilling out of the renewables industry and also by union concerns that jobs will go from what are known as “trade-exposed heavy emitters” (such as aluminium smelters), came eventually to the negotiating table. By this week, the Coalition had made what industry minister Ian Macfarlane calls its final offer of 32,000 GWh, while Labor says it won’t agree to anything below 35,000. When the CEC proposed the obvious compromise – 33,500 – Macfarlane rejected it immediately.
Macfarlane says his “final offer” of 32,000 will actually mean a total target of 46,000 GWh once solar rooftop generation is taken into account. The renewables industry, which represents wind and solar energy companies, is unprepared to agree to the Coalition’s target, but will consent to 33,500 GWh. If no agreement is reached by March 31, the Australian Aluminium Council – which already enjoys massive exemptions – says it will be forced to pay up to $80 million, and this could cost jobs. For this reason, Labor and the Coalition agree that aluminium and the other trade-exposed emitters should be fully exempt from the RET.
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NSW election 2015
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Russell Marks is a lawyer and an honorary research associate at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015).
Yesterday, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) – the renewable energy industry’s peak body – suggested that the Coalition and Labor might split their differences on the Renewable Energy Target (RET). When Labor was in government it mandated that 20% of Australia’s energy would be generated by renewables by the year 2020. That equated to 41,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity, at the then rate of energy generation. Since then, demand for energy has fallen in Australia. As a result, the established fossil fuel energy...