Here’s what your political representatives just did to our renewable energy future

If you had a policy that delivered billions worth of investment in Australian industry, created tens of thousands of jobs, cut living costs for Australians and worked to build the infrastructure of the future all while fighting climate change – what would you do?

Well, according the Abbott government and Labor opposition – the best thing to do with such effective policy is to gut it.

Makes sense. Image © Andrew Meares via smh.com.au

While Australians have been distracted with the federal budget, both major political parties have made a big statement about their vision of Australia’s energy future. The federal government and the Labor party have just made a bipartisan agreement to cut the Renewable Energy Target, an effective policy which has encouraged renewable energy investment, production and use. Here’s why it matters.

What is the Renewable Energy Target?

The Renewable Energy Target (RET) is a government programme which mandates that more of Australia’s electricity be generated from renewable sources like solar and wind to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The legislated target is for 41,000 gigawatt hours (Gwh) of Australia’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020.

The RET supports both large scale renewable energy projects (large wind farms and solar farms) and small scale systems including solar panels and solar hot water systems.

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Since 2001, the RET has:

  • delivered over $20 billion of investment in renewable energy;
  • created 24,000 new jobs;
  • lowered wholesale electricity prices by up to $10 per megawatt hour (MWh);
  • reduced Australian greenhouse gas emissions by 22.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

In its current form, it was forecast to cut average annual household electricity bills by $50 by 2020, and by up to $140 after 2020.

Impacts of cuts to the Renewable Energy Target

Instead of making a commitment to protect our future, climate, household budgets, and renewable energy jobs, both sides of politics have now agreed to slash the Renewable Energy Target from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. $6 billion of new investment in renewables will now be lost because of this cut, according to analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The government’s proposal also includes exemptions for trade exposed energy intensive industries like aluminum, and the inclusion of burning native forest biomass as ‘renewable’ energy. Thankfully, the Labor party has managed to get two yearly reviews of the target taken off the table, ensuring less uncertainty and more confidence for investment in renewable energy projects, and will also oppose the native wood provision.

Since last year, Greenpeace supporters and other passionate Australians have been campaigning to keep the Renewable Energy Target intact. The Abbott government have tried to weaken the target since they came into power – even though it’s an effective, solutions-based policy which is already fighting climate change and helping to diversify Australia’s energy supply.

Our campaign has meant that instead of an abolition of the Renewable Energy Target, or a cut to 18,000 GWh from 41,000 GWh – we’ve got 33,000 GWh instead. The impact on our carbon emissions, power bills, and Australian jobs means that this is still not good enough.

Why should Australia invest in renewable energy technology?

Wind Farms in Iowa

Australia is the sunniest country in the world and one of the windiest. When we could be taking advantage of this natural advantage and become world leaders in clean energy, why would we cut the Renewable Energy Target?

Right now, the government is formulating Australia’s post-2020 emissions targets. Given the substantial reduction in our carbon emissions which will be needed to keep global warming to a safe level, the Abbott government should be doing all it can to encourage more solar and wind power in Australia. Cutting the Renewable Energy Target is the absolute wrong thing to do.

What can you do?

This is bad news, but we’ve not given up on securing a livable world for future generations. The Abbott government has let us down, but you can still make choices that contribute to cleaner renewable energy generation.

Check out our Green Electricity Guide to see if you can switch to a renewable energy provider in your state.

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  • Chris Betts

    Can anyone explain WHY the government and Labour are so keen to cut the target?

    • misanka

      Chris, Labour was not keen to cut, they were fighting for the target to remain at its original level or at least go higher than 33,000. It is Abbott’s side who decided to review the target in the first place. The negotiations and review took over a year and investors in renewable energies started to sell their projects due to the unstable market conditions for them caused by the review. This situation caused job losses not only in renewable energy sector. My opinion is, that is does not matter much if the target is 41 or 33, the whole energy policy needs review, which is ain’t gonna happen…but that is an energy security issue…beyond the above topic.

  • Stephen Pollard

    I recently watched a programme on the ABC which focused on China and the steps it is taking to introduce renewable energy. It was claimed that Beijing will not be using coal fired power stations in the near future. When a market such as that foreshadows a reduction in potential imports (approximately 9.5% of Australian exports with 28 new reactors under construction) and India (representing another approximate 9.5% of Australian imports) and the ROK (with 16%) it’s imperative that Australia seek alternatives to its own reliance on coal both as a moral obligation as part of the global community and as a potential income earner for superseded markets.

  • Cam

    Can somebody please explain to me why there is a perception that renewables are cheap? I installed a 5KW system on my roof at a cost of $12K which was subsidised and based on my forecasting this will never make me money this was a decision based on making a small contribution. However all i see one eyed renewable advocates preaching is that we should have renewables at all costs. Is this is misleading the public or am i missing something in this discussion.

    If renewable energy was so affordable the general population like myself would be making a commitment but instead the cost of renewable is disproportionately higher than our current power sources (I’ve read that the cost per KW difference between coal power and wind power is in the order of 1500%). Added to this is the health issues now becoming apparent with wind power.

    I’m not suggesting we don’t look at alternatives but real alternatives need to be considered and the behavior of people to reduce their energy demands needs to be a part of the agenda. The reality is the public want cheap power and at this point in time solar and wind power are not cutting it from a cost perspective, this is a real factor in selling the dream.

    As a bystander i’m not convinced that renewable energy is good for Australia from an economic standpoint (the environmental benefits are obvious) and this i believe is where many Australians are turning off with the constant push for renewable. I feel like i am being misslead by a group of car sales people who are one eyed in their agenda to stop coal mining however you have no appreciation for the real cost of doing this. Thats my impression and there are too many lies being told to the Australian public for the Australian public to get on board (These lies are being said by both sides) so the general public is turning off on this debate.

    We have a big country that has been deforested and we are making no attempts to plant trees, we have a large nation of people who are not energy conscious and continue to use power at unacceptably high levels. We have a community who don’t use public transport and don’t walk to the corner store but use their cars. The truth of the matter is the community is naive to the problem and continues to display poor behaviour, and until this changes the appreciation to commit to renewable energy will not gain traction while it comes at such a cost of impacting on peoples lives.

    Austrailia is anti nuclear that is clear but again i sometimes wonder if this is another case of misinformation resulting in a less favorable outcome but is this a real solution to the emissions issue while providing affordable electricity. I am not in a position to argue the pros and cons of nuclear power but from the limited litrature i have read it could be that our brown coal energy is doing far more damage to the environment and our population than nuclear is likely to do.

    I’m not convinced that all avenues are being adequately pursued. we had a carbon tax and the money was wasted on an agenda that had nothing to do with improving the environment. Why didnt we plant trees at least we would have made a small difference.

    The whole energy saga is a big joke in my eyes and until we start to deal with the fundamentals nothing will change.