Household solar 'safe' as Abbott takes aim at large scale renewables


So much for the Australian government’s claim it would ditch the controversial and discredited Warburton Review of the nation’s Renewable Energy Target.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government has confirmed that its opening position in talks with the opposition Labor Party is for a ‘real’ 20 per cent target, meaning that the amount of large scale renewable energy capacity being built in Australia over the next five years could be cut by two thirds from the current target.

That was one of the key recommendations of the Warburton Review, which made the suggestion despite finding that the cost to consumers would be far less if it left the target at the current level of 41 TWh by 2020, or made it a 30 per cent target by 2030.

The Abbott government had suggested that it had ditched the recommendations of the Warburton Review, but it has clearly done no such thing.

Industry minister Ian Macfarlane, in comments to the media after a speech in Canberra, has, however, responded to the Save Solar campaign that targeted marginal electorates by declaring there will be no changes to household solar.

That means that the upfront subsidy in the form of certificates will still be available for systems under 10kW. There is uncertainty, however, over whether commercial-scale solar – from 10kW to 100kW – will continue to receive certificates. Systems of that size may be transferred to the large scale scheme.

As RenewEconomy highlighted last week, the Abbott government’s decision making appears to be guided by its hatred of wind energy – the biggest victim of the 41 TWh target is reduced to something like 26 TWh.

The large scale renewable energy industry has said that such a target would be disastrous.

Macfarlane has even endorsed the Warburton Review’s controversial suggestion that renewables should not be allowed to account for more than 50 per cent of new demand.

The solar industry, however, is satisfied that it has at least been able to protect the household solar market, which accounts for around 700 MW of installations per year.

About 15,000 Australian households add rooftop solar every month, despite the disappearance of state-based FITs.

Australian Solar Council CEO John Grimes said the Save Solar campaign had forced the government to change its position dramatically, with the Warburton Review having recommended the closure of the household scheme, even as one of its senior panel members availed himself of the scheme to install a new system on one of his properties this month.

"The solar industry should give itself a real pat on the back for the strength of its community Save Solar campaign to date, but much more work needs to be done," Grimes said in a statement. "Whilst the spectre of the extreme Warburton Review looms large over the government’s thinking, the government has simply failed to make the case for cutting the Renewable Energy Target.

"The so-called ‘real 20%’ would effectively mean a 60% cut in the Renewable Energy Target and would stop large-scale solar in its tracks.

"The debate should not be about how much we should cut support for solar and the Renewable Energy Target. The debate must be about how much we expand our use of solar and achieve 50% renewable energy by 2030. Australians want more solar, not less."

Still, Labor appeared to be holding steady to its target, with leader Bill Shorten telling journalists that the 20 per cent target was a ‘fraud’.

Labor has been prepared, however, to give ground on exemptions to large electricity users, such as the aluminum sector, and on a possible deferral of the target to 2022.

Negotiations between the government and Labor were due to start on Wednesday in Canberra and involve treasurer Joe Hockey, who hates wind farms; Macfarlane, who prefers nuclear and who was responsible for bringing the previous renewable energy target, the MRET, to a premature end a decade ago; and environment minister Greg Hunt, who says people who don’t like coal-fired generation are "against electricity."

On the Labor side are treasury spokesman Chris Bowen, environment spokesman Mark Butler, and energy spokesman Gary Gray, who once said that he, Macfarlane, and former energy minister Martin Ferguson, who also did not like renewables, were like "three peas in a pod" – so the Abbott team may gain some sympathy there.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne says the Abbott government position should be rejected by the Labor party.

"There is absolutely no reason, and no excuse, for weakening the Renewable Energy Target. The Labor Party must stand firm and reject this deal outright," said Senator Milne. "By accepting Dick Warburton’s ‘real 20%’ target and half of any new growth recommendations, the Abbott government has signed up to a discredited review that is based on a refusal to accept climate science."

Andrew Bray, national co-ordinator of the Australian Wind Alliance, said the Warburton review attacking renewable energy is the basis for the government’s position.

"The government is seeking less renewable energy and that means higher power prices for all Australians. Australians want more renewables, not less," said Bray. "We want lower power prices and the only way to get there is through more solar and more wind power being put into the grid."

Source: RenewEconomy. Produced with permission.