Political spat over renewable energy threatens investment in Australia, industry warns

by admin on July 14th, 2018

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was accused of peddling ‘ignorant rubbish’ by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Photo: Anthony JohnsonClean energy providers, including market giant AGL, have called for more certainty in government policy amid warnings the fight over renewables between the Turnbull Government and Labor states will drive investment out of Australia.

The category-five political storm unleashed by this week’s statewide blackout in South Australia worsened on Friday, with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews accusing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of peddling “ignorant rubbish” by linking Wednesday’s failure with that state’s aggressive embrace of renewable energy.

Mr Turnbull returned serve, accusing Mr Andrews’ government of “distorting the electricity market” through ambitious targets at the expense of energy security.

The Prime Minister, who noted that his Point Piper home had a “roof full of solar panels” and was a supporter of renewables, said business in South Australia was struggling to maintain investment growth and jobs due to the most expensive wholesale electricity.

South Australia is driving towards a 50 per cent share of renewable energy by 2025 but Mr Turnbull is advocating a national target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, which would likely mean curbing growth in states like SA, Queensland and Victoria.

The uncertainty has unsettled the renewable industry.

AGL Energy, which operates the large Hallett Wind Farm in SA, called for policymakers at state and federal level to come back together.

“Australia’s energy system needs to transition. The key question for policymakers is how to enable that transition in the most orderly and cost-effective fashion.  AGL advocates a better integration of climate and energy policy architecture,” the company said in a statement to Fairfax Media.

The Clean Energy Council, the peak body for renewable energy providers, echoed AGL, saying a stronger policy was needed to encourage more investment in the sector.

“It is important to recognise that investment stability is crucial and any discussion about future policy harmonisation must respect the massive investment already in place and the need for continued policy stability to build confidence in the Australian industry,” said Kane Thornton, chief executive of the CEC.

“If we are now talking about the harmonisation of state and federal schemes following the torturous review of the RET which ended last year, this can only mean longer and stronger targets that encourage new investment beyond 2020.”

But some experts believe real damage has already been done to the sector by the flare-up of aggression towards renewables this week by business groups and senior Coalition figures, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Andrew Stock, a member of the Climate Council and four-decade veteran of the energy industry, said the current political debate was focusing on the “tree but losing sight of the forest”.

“One of the risks here is, if we get back into the blame game, private capital investment will go elsewhere and there are plenty of other places in the world where international capital will go to drive renewable energy and clean energy investment,” he said.

“The people who make those investment decisions understand the world is going to decarbonise its energy supply and they will look for the places where, globally, it is attractive to invest.”

Mr Stock  rejected Mr Turnbull’s comments about the overly-bullish approach by SA.

“South Australia’s wind power has not been built on the back of South Australia’s aspirational renewable energy target. The reason South Australia has more wind than other states is that it has great renewable energy, really great wind resources, so people will build there if they can,” he said.

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