Last week the clean energy industry peak body, the Clean Energy Council, offered a major compromise to the government, informing them that they would accept a lowering of the Renewable Energy Target to 33,500 gigawatt hours. This is a cut to the target of around 30% from its current 41,000 gigawatt hour level.
The Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, immediately quashed the suggestion, saying the government was sticking with its latest position of 32,000 gigawatt hours. But his bluster was lost in a rush of calls from Australia’s largest business voices, including the Business Council of Australia, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Australian Industry Group for the government and opposition to agree to the compromise.
With almost no one out there supporting the government’s position, it’s hard to see how they can go for much longer without agreeing to a result at or around this level. Threats of a deal with the cross-bench look like more of a bluff than a genuine way forward.
So what would this compromise look like?
Yes 2 Renewables estimates that it equates to around 3312 less jobs in the sector by 2020. RenewEconomy estimates a loss of around $6 billion of investment and 3000 megawatts of new plant. Large scale solar would be largely excluded from RET support before 2020, which is a bad result for the diversity our renewable energy mix.
While an end to the job-destroying delay around the future of the RET is long overdue, this is nevertheless a horrible situation. Nearly two years of uncertainty has seen hundreds of jobs lost across the sector at places like wind tower manufacturer, Keppel Prince, and a host of wind development companies. AWA members have lost their jobs. A resolution now would be a massive relief and may well see many of these jobs kick back into action.
But it has come at a huge cost to the future of renewable energy in Australia, cutting our ambitions by orders of magnitude while renewable energy powers ahead overseas. As we argued last week in the Australian Financial Review, the government reneged on their promise to keep the target as is and have been prepared to sacrifice jobs around the country to look after the profits of coal-fired power sector (you’ll remember that they’re the ones that are ‘good for humanity’).
It may be that this lost ground can be recovered over time. Given Tony Abbott’s weak grip on power, a new Prime Minister could drag the Coalition kicking and screaming back to an ambitious position on renewables or if Labor were to win the next election, they may choose to stand on a platform of a higher target. But we’d be starting from a long way further back.
What do you think about the Industry's RET compromise? It's not a simple question. There are short and long term issues at stake, lost wind jobs to restore and emission cuts to achieve. There is also a renewable sector to build for the future. Where do you think AWA should stand right now? Head to our facebook page and join in the discussion there.