Senior US Democrat criticizes Australian prime minister's climate policies

The long serving Democrat said that Prime Minister Abbott’s policies, which have essentially put a halt to new utility scale PV projects in Australia, were making the country a "behind the scenes lagger."

"As I understand it, Australia will go from being one of the great leaders in the world in tackling this problem [climate change], to one of the great laggers in addressing efforts to reducing the pollution that is threatening the planet that we’re living on," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Abbott had previously likened President Obama’s measures, released last week and which require the electricity generation sector to reduce emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030, to his own Direct Action policy. However, Waxman, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, that was false.

"What President Obama is proposing is much closer to the existing Australian law and that’s why I hope that Australian law is not reversed," Waxman said.

The existing Australian law is Australia’s carbon price, which was one the first enacted into law globally. Abbott is seeking to repeal the carbon price legislation and with a range of bodies and programs that had supported renewable energy, including solar PV, in the country.

Attacks to renewable energy

Abbott is attempting to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which funds the adoption of early stage renewable applications. ARENA is currently supporting the funding of the roll out of solar PV in offgrid mining operations, a particularly promising market for PV.

Along with this, the Abbott government is attempting to close down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which is providing $60 million in debt finance for the 56 MW Moree Solar Farm. Additionally the CEFC has financed solar PV installations across remote facilities operated by the Australian Agricultural Company Limited.

Another major blow to solar in Australia dealt by the Abbott coalition government is the review of Australia’s mandatory Renewable Energy Target (RET). The RET mandates that approximately 20% of Australia’s electricity generation capacity is to be sourced from renewables. The RET review ordered by the government is being headed by Dick Warburton, a former Caltex Australia head who has previously questioned whether global warming is linked to carbon emissions. One other panelist is the former head of a coal generator and is being advised by BA Economics, which has previously performed analyses for the oil and gas industry.

The RET provided the investment environment, coupled with the market signal sent by the carbon price, under which a number of large scale solar projects were developed – some of which are still under construction.

On top of large scale PV installations, the RET also underpins the Small scale Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) scheme, which provides a subsidy for residential and small commercial solar installations Down Under.

With the continuing build out of already-financed large scale PV projects, the continuing rapid growth of the commercial rooftop market and strong demand from households, Australia’s solar industry is continuing to see a healthy, but reduced, rate of installations in 2014. The newly installed capacity for Australia is estimated to be between 600 MW and 800 MW this year.