COMMENT (UPDATED 19 May 2015): The federal government has won in its attempts to smash a huge part of the Renewable Energy Target, destroying an estimated $6 billion in much needed investment in an economy desperately needing to transition from dirty coal to clean energy.
In agreement with a brow-beaten Labor opposition, the new RET has been cut from 41,000 gigawatt hours to to 33,000GWh.
It’s a despicable win for the government and along with other attacks on climate and environment-related programs, about the only place it gets to call a victory. In so many other regards, most notably last year’s failed budget, the government has been weak and lily-livered.
Its weapon on this attack was blackmail – stifling investment in clean energy and deliberately hurting the very part of the economy it needs to stimulate to help this country transition to history’s next massive revolution, already under way – the environmental revolution.
See recent reports on China’s kick-down in coal consumption.
Reuters said Coal for power dipped in 2014 and is expected to drop again, with analysts forecasting a downturn in demand.
See The AFR with its April 16 story, China demand for coal-fired electricity falls by 10 per cent in March quarter and Why China should make cutting coal power its No 1 goal
And just days ago official data from China shows coal use “continuing to fall precipitously”, Greenpeace EnergyDesk reported.
Cuts in the first four months of the year roughly equal total carbon emissions of the United Kingdom over the same period, the report said.
“It comes after the latest data – for April – showed coal output down 7.4 per cent year on year amidst reports of fundamental reform for the sector. China also recently ordered more than 1000 coal mines to close.”
But despite the evidence, the Australian government is clinging desperately to the past.
Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton told media outlets on Monday that the industry was “entirely frozen”.
Shadow environment spokesman Mark Butler explained Labor’s cave-in by saying the impasse over the RET had stalled investment and brought the industry to the brink of collapse.
“What we saw last year was a reckless attack by the Prime Minister on an industry he’d promised at the election to support,” Mr Butler said in an ABC report. “That reckless attack saw investment plummet by 88 per cent.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale slammed the deal as “irresponsible” and said the Greens also opposed the plan to include timber waste in the target.
“Simply put, this deal between the Labor Party and the Abbott Government means more pollution and less regional investment. It means more lung disease and fewer 21st century jobs,” he said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the deal “marks a sad day for the climate”.
“If the Renewable Energy Target had been left to do its job it would have delivered about 26 per cent of Australia’s energy from clean sources like wind and solar by 2020,” ACF’s CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said.
“Both major parties went to the last election with a promise to keep the RET as it was.
“Today’s backdown represents a surrender to the electricity sector’s big polluters, because it will allow more electricity to be generated at old, inefficient coal-fired power stations.”
ACF said the agreement also failed to address the Victorian Government’s request to allow state-based renewable energy schemes.
“The Federal Government should not stand in the way of states that want to make it easier for clean energy to grow,” Ms O’Shanassy said.
Legislation is now expected to be passed within weeks, before Parliament’s winter recess starting 25 June .
– with Willow Aliento