Australian Greens hopeful of positive roundtable discussions

Following a cut of funding to the Solar Flagships program to deal with the floods that devastated the state of Queensland earlier in the year, the Green Party managed to negotiate the return of AUD$100 million (€74 million) in the short term as well as the commitment to hold the upcoming roundtable meeting.

The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET) will host the event that they say, "will provide an opportunity for the industry to present its views on support for the development of large-scale solar energy projects in Australia."

The Large Scale Solar Deployment Roundtable, as it will be called, will cover a range of topics including: the state of Australia’s large-scale solar industry, challenges facing the development of large-scale solar energy projects, support for large-scale solar under the Solar Flagships Program, Solar R&D, electricity market integration, and international perspectives on the Australian industry.

According to the Greens, the primary goal of the roundtable is to have industry insiders present opinions and perspectives on the state of the industry, and to have the government listen.

"For the first time, we will now see proper consultation so the solar industry can tell government what it needs in order to start building here in Australia the kind of industrial-scale base load solar power stations that are operational right now in Europe and America," Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said in a statement.

"Industrial scale solar power is booming in Europe and America where they have either technology-specific feed-in tariffs or loan guarantees. It is that kind of systemic but low-cost policy that is needed, not a one-off and highly conditional cash splash," she said.

"Part of the agreement in February was that the roundtable would examine ‘the costs and benefits of a range of policies, including feed-in-tariffs, with reference to successful international policies’."

The importance of the meeting has grown recently after a cut in funding to solar projects during the 2011 National Budget.

This has given rise to fears about the ability for the Australian Solar Industry to offer a competitive marketplace for solar. It has also seen some groups raise the issue of a ‘brain drain’, which would see some of the brightest minds head overseas to further their career and opportunities in the solar industry.

Senator Milne used the example of Origin Energy’s Sliver cell plant moving from Adelaide to the U.S. as an example of world-leading solar technologies moving offshore because of a lack of policy support in Australia.?

"I hope this roundtable can be an important step in bringing them home," she said.

Assess poor design

One of the most important issues to be discussed at the conference will be the design of schemes like the Solar Flagship program and how best it can be implemented.

The industry is currently searching for the best way for governmental assistance to benefit the industry without giving rise to an unsustainable boom.

Senator Milne said the Solar Flagship program was poorly designed and the roundtable would be a chance for the government to take suggestions on a restructuring from interested parties.

"From its very first announcement, the solar industry has repeatedly told Minister Ferguson and his department that the Solar Flagships scheme would not work, but they would not listen," Senator Milne said.

"I will take part in the roundtable to make doubly sure that the government listens to the solar industry this time."

Involvement

"The Roundtable will be relevant to companies with an interest in large-scale solar energy development, solar industry peak bodies, and solar R&D organisations," said the DRET website.

The Roundtable will begin at 9:30 am on July 8 at the National Convention Centre, Canberra. It will start with presentations from industry insiders and include an afternoon session where the pros and cons of various future policy options are explored in a managed discussion.