21 July 2010 – Victoria’s shopping centres and other commercial buildings may soon be the first in the country to sport large solar arrays, after the Victorian government today announced plans for the nation’s first feed-in tariff for large-scale solar energy and an increase in electricity supply from large scale-solar power to five per cent by 2020.

In a move warmly welcomed by green groups, Premier John Brumby,  said that Australia’s most ambitious solar commitment would provide new economic opportunities for solar investment in Victoria.

“This commitment to a sustainable future for Victoria should see establishment of between five and 10 large solar plants across regional Victoria,” said Mr Brumby who was visiting the Silex solar test facility at  Bridgewater in Victoria.

“This initiative will also provide new economic opportunities in regional Victoria, generating between $1.5 and $2 billion in new solar investment in Victoria.”

The move comes with the release of a new report from Sincalir Knight Merz on behalf of the Victorian government that shows that the state’s future energy needs could be entirely met from renewable energy sources.

Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources Peter Batchelor said the report was based on a similar UK study which found that in the UK it was unlikely they could generate sufficient renewable energy to meet their consumption needs.

“This report shows Victoria has better renewable potential than the UK which is great news,” he said.

Mr Brumby said increasing use of solar power to five per cent by 2020 would require a number of investments above and beyond the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Target.

“The feed-in tariff will assist in the take up of solar power by paying large-scale facilities extra money for feeding the renewable power they generate back into the grid above what they would normally get on the energy market.

“To show we’re serious about the 2020 we have set an interim target of generating 500 gigawatt hours of solar power by 2014.

“This is in addition to power generated by the Silex facility and represents a massive increase on the present level of solar generation Australia-wide and is enough to power more than 90,000 homes.”

Mr Brumby said the Victorian government continued to support an emission trading scheme but was determined to push forward now to secure new clean energy investment.

“A price on carbon is necessary to deliver the very deep reductions in emissions we need, but we need to forge ahead and tackle climate change through measures such as these.”

Victorian Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings said the Brumby Labor Government’s comprehensive plan to make Victoria the solar state would also include action to support medium scale solar energy.

“Think of the roof space on some of the large suburban shopping centres – we see these places as offering enormous potential for broad-scale solar power generation.

“Generating their own electricity means businesses will not only help reduce emissions but they will save money on their bottom line – a win for business and the environment.”

ACF climate change program manager Tony Mohr welcomed the announcement by the Victorian government, saying that it showed that the federal government could be doing a lot more.

“If we had a a five per cent target nationally it would mean that 30 of the 50 projects that applied for the current solar flagship project under the current policy would get up,” Mr Mohr told The Fifth Estate today.

Instead only two had been approved, he said.

“Federally there is no [renewable energy] target, no feed in tariff and no support other than the solar flagship – and that only scratches the surface.”

Greens deputy leader senator Christine Milne praised the decision, calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to follow suit and establish a national feed-in tariff to support all forms of renewable energy.

“Premier Brumby is to be congratulated on his decision today. He is leaving Julia Gillard in his wake, although he still has a fair way to go to catch up with the Greens,” Senator Milne said.

“We need to set our sights as high as possible and establish a national feed-in tariff to support all forms of renewable energy.

“A properly designed feed-in tariff is recognised as the reason Germany, Spain and some US states have seen tremendous booms in renewable energy, creating jobs and investment, cleaning the air and reducing emissions.”

However, Senator Milne was concerned about the impact of state based schemes.

“While I welcome Premier Brumby’s announcement, the expansion of state-based schemes can lead to perverse outcomes for investors, particularly in the context of the national renewable energy target,” she said.

“The main obstacles to a national gross feed-in tariff are Penny Wong and Julia Gillard.”

Mr Brumby said a medium scale working group,  to be chaired by Tony Wood, director of Clean Energy Program in Australia for the Clinton Climate Initiative,  would be established to advise on what type of actions were needed to drive medium-scale solar power.

The solar initiatives announced today will complete a three-pronged approach to meeting the five per cent solar target through driving investment in small, medium and large scale generation, coupled with established initiatives including:

•  The $50 million contribution towards the $450 million large-scale solar project being delivered by Silex, as well as the [remium feed-in tariff for households

•  Contribution of $100 towards a Victorian Solar Flagships bid and the rollout of 10 projects from the $5 million Solar Hubs program announced in the Jobs For The Future Economy: Green Jobs Action Plan. The solar initiative released today follows the Victorian government’s announcement to double the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target to cut Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5.4 million tonnes a year.

Mr Brumby said these new measures and today’s nation-leading commitment to solar energy were part of the Victorian Government’s landmark Climate Change White Paper to be released later this month.

– with Tina Perinotto

The Fifth Estate – We can’t wait for the future