The great solar stand-off: it's no good for anyone

renewable energy target uncertainty

The political impasse over the renewable energy target (RET) threatens discounted solar systems for householders, stalls the economy and plays Russian roulette with our grandchildren’s future.

Labor and the Government have been arguing about the details of the RET for two years now and just when it looked like they were making headway, yesterday the opposition said “no deal”.

The story, in a nutshell, goes like this: the RET is a federal government policy put in place to ensure 20 per cent of Australia’s energy needs comes from renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal ect) by 2020. It started out modestly in 2001 with a 2 per cent goal; this was increased to 20 per cent in 2009 in the light of emerging climate-change science.

The RET is a bipartisan policy and for many years has been the one thing the two sides of politics could agree on. But in 2014, the Prime Minister appointed businessman and alleged climate change denier Dick Warburton to review the RET.

Mr Warburton told the SMH, ”I am not a denier of climate change. But I am sceptical about some of the aspects of global warming, and more particularly what might be causing it.”

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Although the panel’s findings showed that the RET has been meeting its goals of stimulating the renewable energy industry and meeting the 20 per cent target, the panel’s recommendations were that the target be drastically reduced or the policy scrapped all together. Labor did not accept the recommendations and said the RET should remain unchanged from its target of 41,000 GWh of energy produced by renewables by 2020. The government came back with a proposition to cut the renewable energy target by 40 per cent.

Hence the great renewables stand-off.

Last week, both parties came to the table ready to negotiate and for a moment it looked like they were going to meet halfway at a 33,ooo GWh target. But Labor, backed by the Solar Council and the Clean Energy Council, is digging its heels in over two last details: reviews of the target every two years, which it says only increases uncertainty; and the burning of native wood waste, which the government insists is a renewable form of energy.

What all this means for us is that we still don’t know whether the small-scale solar scheme will continue – currently the Government subsidises small solar systems such as the ones we would install on our roofs. Without the subsidy, prices would increase. In last week’s talks both parties said this aspect of the RET would remain untouched, but solar panel suppliers are reporting their customers aren’t convinced.

The second issue is the impact on business. Investment has stalled in the renewable energy sector due to the uncertainty over the RET, and has also impacted energy-intensive industries, such as the aluminium sector.

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Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of economics and industry policy John Osborn said in The Australian, “Business wants a RET deal now… We call on both major parties to put this issue to bed and not miss this opportunity for a resolution.”

Then there is the impact of a failure to act on something that is “no less significant than the move from horse and cart to automobiles”, as reported by News Limited. Australia is being left behind in an industry – renewable energy – in which we once were leaders.

Finally, there’s the environmental impact of not trying our hardest to cut carbon emissions by switching to what’s known as a low-carbon economy. It is our moral right, and the one thing we must focus on for the sake of our grandchildren and future generations.

As President Barak Obama said, “Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them with a cleaner, safer, more stable world?”

The International Panel on Climate Change has recommended global emissions drop by 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 if we are to stall climate change at 2 degrees. With our current target around 20 per cent, Australia has a long way to go.

Do you think the Government should give in and accept a five-year review, or should Labor just let it go so we can move forward on the issue?