Government and Labor reach renewable energy target deal

Lisa Cox , writing for The Sydney Morning Herald (18/5/15) reports:
A deal has been reached to reduce Australia’s renewable energy target to 33,000 gigawatt hours after the government agreed to drop regular reviews of the scheme.

The government and Labor reached an agreement during talks in Melbourne on Monday morning, ending more than 12 months of political deadlock.
It is hoped the deal will unlock investment in Australia’s renewable energy sector which has been stalled since the government launched its review last year of the bipartisan target of 41,000 gigawatt hours of annual renewable energy production by 2020.

The Abbott government decided it wanted to reduce the target after the 2013 election and launched the review led by businessman and known climate sceptic Dick Warburton. It originally proposed cutting the target to 26,000 gigawatt hours, while Labor initially said they would not go below a figure of 35,000 to 39,000 gigawatt hours.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said on Monday “we’re pleased to have brought this to a conclusion”.

As part of the agreement, the government scrapped a proposal to continue reviewing the target every two years after an outcry from the clean energy industry threatened a deal with Labor.
“We’re looking forward to the renewable energy industry getting out there and meeting a target which means they have to build more renewable energy generation in the next five years than they’ve built in the last 15,” he said.

Instead of two-yearly reviews, the Clean Energy Regulator will publish an annual statement showing progress towards the target and any impact on electricity prices.
Legislation to go to Parliament next week will still contain a plan to allow the burning of native timber to count towards the renewable energy target.
The government hopes to pass this with support from the Senate crossbench.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the deal returned certainty to the renewable energy sector.

“What we’ve achieved today, I think is certainty for the renewable energy sector. The protection of jobs in the trade exposed sector and I think that is absolutely critical,” Mr Hunt said. “There is an enormous opportunity for the renewable sector going forward. We think we have found a better way, which suits the needs of all parties.” Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler said the long-running saga had been “a sorry state of affairs” since the government launched its review, ending 10 years of bipartisanship on the issue.

He said Monday’s deal would hopefully restore confidence in the sector and, if elected, Labor would look to increase the 2020 target.
“We have also started discussions with stakeholders in this industry about a bold ambitious plan that Labor would like to put in place for the renewable energy industry beyond 2020,” he said. Mr Butler said Labor would still “strenuously oppose” the inclusion of wood waste in the scheme.

The Clean Energy Council said dropping the requirement for two-yearly reviews removed the final stumbling block for a deal. “I’m confident that a final agreement can now be negotiated which will deliver the necessary bipartisan support for the RET, restoring stability to the policy and allowing the industry to meet the revised target,” chief executive Kane Thornton said.

“It has been a tough 15 months, but this development will be a huge weight off the shoulders of the 20,000 people working in the industry. It will also help to unlock Australia’s massive renewable energy potential.”

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