Mark Butler, Labor’s climate change spokesman said the government had
shattered the notion of bipartisanship over the renewable energy target.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Hopes of a bipartisan accord to break an impasse over the renewable energy target have dimmed, with Labor saying it won’t be a party to a broken election promise by the government.
The stance comes as a new report showed Australia leading the world over the past two years in achieving economic growth while shrinking greenhouse gas emissions – a standing now at risk without a price on carbon and uncertainty all but halting new investment in large-scale renewable energy.
Mark Butler, Labor’s climate change spokesman, said the government had reneged on its promise to leave the renewable energy target unchanged.
“The Abbott government shattered any notion of bipartisanship on the RET when it walked away from its election commitment to keep the existing 41,000 [gigawatt-hour] by 2020 target,” Mr Butler said.
Earlier on Monday, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the government would discuss the target “with anyone”.
“If we continue with a period of hiatus where the Labor Party’s not prepared to negotiate anything, then in the end it’ll be the renewable energy industry that loses,” Mr Macfarlane said.
Senior leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, reportedly want the target scrapped, saying it has forced up power prices. A handpicked panel led by businessman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton recommended closing the scheme to new entrants or setting annual targets.
Popular support for renewables, particularly rooftop solar, has made any retreat on renewables politically risky, while the Palmer United Party has vowed to block any changes until after the next election.
Industry supporters also point to the Warburton review’s own findings that consumers will be better off under the current setting from about 2020. They also highlight the potential to further cut carbon emissions from the electricity sector – a source of one-third of Australia’s total – while also attracting $15 billion in investment by the decade’s end.
A spokeswoman for Mr Macfarlane said there had been “no suggestion” the government would scrap the target: “None of the existing investments in large-scale renewable energy will be impacted by any change to the RET.”
Industry officials, though, doubt the government can easily intervene to protect existing investments not least because on-going uncertainty has already driven down the value of the renewable-energy certificates wind farms and other generators receive.
“The easiest thing would be to leave the target where it is,” said Ken McAlpine, an executive with wind turbine-maker, Vestas .
A freeze in renewable energy would also undermine Australia’s efforts to reduce the carbon-intensity of the economy.