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‘Serious concern’ over Australia’s renewable target agreement

Australia looks set to approve a 33,000GWh goal for its Renewable Energy Target (RET), after minister for industry and science Ian Macfarlane announced that the Coalition had reached an agreed target with the Labor Party.

This brings the target down from 41,000GWh, despite a government-appointed independent research group, the Climate Change Authority (CCA) not favouring “any significant scaling back” of the original 2020 target, in its 2014 RET Review.

Furthermore, the Coalition proposed to maintain its biennial reviews of the RET, despite renewable industry bodies blaming the regular reviews for a freeze on investment in the sector.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the RET review, which has lasted for 14 months, caused investor uncertainty and hundreds of jobs to be lost.

Although Thornton “reluctantly” accepted the RET agreement as an end to uncertainty, he expressed “serious concern” about the retaining of the biennial review, which he claimed the industry had been given repeated assurances would be removed.

Thornton said: “These reviews are the root cause of the crisis that the industry is facing, and a deal which guarantees another review next year could be a death warrant for the industry.

“No-one in the industry is happy about the prospect of a reduced target for large-scale renewable energy, but it is time to put this issue to rest.”

Macfarlane described the talks with Labor as “fruitful”, and said that the Coalition had also asked for wood waste to be included in the targets, but this has not yet been agreed upon with Labor.

The Clean Energy Council did not support the inclusion of wood waste unless it can be verified as coming from sustainably managed forests.

The proposed RET target will be taken to Cabinet for approval on Monday and to the Coalition Party Room on Tuesday.

John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Council said the Tony Abbott-led Government has thrown the solar industry “back into turmoil” by backing the two yearly reviews of the RET. He said the next review would start in seven months and this would make “household solar, commercial solar and big solar completely uncertain once again”.

He added: “We’ve had three RET Reviews in three years. We don’t want any more. Another RET Review will destroy Australia’s solar industry, hurting 5,000 small businesses and harming 18,000 solar workers.”

According to Grimes, Macfarlane had previously said on 27 February: “I’ve offered […] a guarantee that this will be the last [RET] review before 2020”.

Last week business groups called on Australia’s federal government and opposition to compromise and agree an RET position at 33,000GWh, but Grimes said this target would quickly be taken up by wind alone, because by 2017/18 when Big Solar is competing at scale there will be little space left to reach the target.

In other news, Australia’s first floating solar system was launched by Infratech Industries, generating around 57 per cent more power than land-based systems.The AUS$12 million (US$9.5 million) system was installed at the Northern Areas Council Wastewater Treatment Plant in South Australia.

Community project Solar Citizen’s national director Claire O’Rourke welcomed the system launch and said: “The uncertainty that the Government has created around the RET has had a devastating impact on the industry.

“If the RET is protected and strengthened it will help to create 20,000 new Australian jobs by 2020.”

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