John Grimes

UPDATED: On Monday night’s Q&A federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg said the Clean Energy Finance Corporation was doing a good job with reducing carbon emissions. 

This was about the same time during the program that Elizabeth Proust, chairman of the uber conservative Institute of Company Directors, said there’s no one she comes across these days who challenges the science on climate change.

Yet on Tuesday we read that the federal government is planning to merge the CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency as a way to hobble them instead of kill them, we suppose, which would risk a major outcry ahead of the federal election expected on 2 July.

  • UPDATE: 23 March 2016: In late breaking news early Wednesday morning the Turnbull government revealed it will launch a $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund, and committed to retain both bodies, in the first signal move to differentiate himself from the previous Abbott government and actively support climate action. Separate story to come.

The Guardian reported that the expenditure review committee of cabinet is set to consider the merger option immediately so that both bodies can be financed by borrowings rather than budget allocations.

The news comes just days after environment minister Greg Hunt said there was no change in the government’s long-standing policy of abolishing both agencies. According to Australian Solar Council chief executive John Grimes it’s just more hypocrisy form the Feds.

“It’s been a feature of the life of the federal government that the bills to abolish the CEFC and ARENA remain in the notice paper in the senate.”

This means the bills could be brought on at any time. Yet with the guillotine poised over their corporate heads these bodies continue to succeed as best they can – the CEFC drawing praise on television.

Grimes pointed out another hypocrisy: the Feds, as they pause for breath in the Vikings-like destruction of our scientists, the CSIRO in particular, have managed to find $3.3 million to study the impact on health of… wait for it… did you expect his to say the dreaded record breaking heat during February? With its threats to the very young and the very old?

No no no. This money is to study the impact on health of wind farms.

Grimes thinks there is little difference between the two governments. And like many Australians who breathed a sigh of relief when Turnbull ousted Abbott from the prime ministership, he and the ASC are very disappointed.

“A simple thing that Turnbull could have done was to remove those bills from the notice paper; we were told that would probably happen after Christmas and it hasn’t.”

But though many people are very disappointed, they should not be surprised, Grimes says.

Turnbull, he says, made “it very clear” when dealing with the Nationals and his own back bench that he would not make any change to climate or energy-related policy.

“That was the price of his prime ministership.

“Our question is why this sector has to pay the price for the Turnbull prime ministership?”

Grimes gave five reasons the merger of the two agencies is a bad idea:

  • Potential of defunding of ARENA: there is over $1 billion in unspent ARENA funds, endorsed by parliament, needed to stimulate investment in research and development and renewable energy projects
  • Different roles: ARENA supports research and development and early-stage commercialisation through grant funding, while CEFC supports renewable energy projects at a later stage of development, which have the capacity to repay loans
  • Different stages: research and development, early-stage commercialisation and innovation are not suited to loans, and needs upfront capital funding
  • Increased uncertainty: the CEFC has been hamstrung by ongoing attempts to axe the agency and then to change its investment portfolio, with this move adding uncertainty
  • A weaker renewable sector: the renewable energy industry has not recovered from the Abbott Government’s war on solar and renewable energy, and the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s continued attempts to axe ARENA and CEFC

With an election looming on 2 July and increasingly likely, a double dissolution election, there is no telling what more damage can be done to the climate and clean energy agenda.

But a surprise it won’t be.

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