The renewable energy industry is celebrating the change in Coalition leadership, with hopes pinned on Malcolm Turnbull to show support for the renewable energy sources that Tony Abbott so fervently rejected.
Out With the Old
In 2014, Australia invested just $240 million in renewable energy projects and facilities, compared to a global investment of $310 billion.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey campaigned against wind farms as an energy source. In an interview with 2GB, Mr. Abbott described wind farms as ‘visually awful’ and said he wished the Howard Government had never introduced the Renewable Energy Target.
But at the opening of Caval Ridge Mine in Queensland, Mr. Abbott declared: “Coal is good for humanity. Coal is good for prosperity. Coal is an essential part of our economic future – here in Australia and right around the world.”
During his term in office, Mr. Abbott negotiated a slashed renewable energy target from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000. At the time, he commented “I would frankly have liked to reduce the number (of turbines) a lot more.”
Mr. Abbott issued a directive to the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to stop investing in wind power projects back in July, and was in the process of abolishing the CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (AREA) entirely before being turfed by Mr. Turnbull.
In With the New
In an interview with ABC’s RN Breakfast, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has recently emphasised the government’s support and confidence in the renewable energy sector: “the opportunity for flexibility and innovation and for support and growth in the renewable sector… is real and tangible right now.” In a promising sign for action in this area, the CEFC and AREA have been moved from the junk pile and into the Environment portfolio. They are now part of the new Office of Climate Change and Renewable Innovation, which is under Mr. Hunt’s control.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told has said that “clearly renewable energy is a key part of our energy platform” and described wind farms and solar power as having “a role to play”. However, Mr. Frydenberg gave cautious answers when questioned about coal, saying it was “a very important part of our energy mix … and will continue to be because it creates thousands of jobs and is an important source of electricity for much of the developing world”.
The Turnbull Government has been largely welcomed by the renewable energy industry bodies, encouraged by Mr. Hunt and Mr. Frydenberg’s insistence that the industry will play a key part in the Government’s energy platform. Policy Manager for the Clean Energy Council, Darren Gladman, said in a statement:
It is no secret that the last couple of years were both challenging and frustrating for the renewable energy industry under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The renewable energy industry is looking forward to working with Minister Frydenberg, as well as continuing to build on our relationship with Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who clearly recognises the potential of technologies like solar, wind, bio-energy and energy efficiency to create a strong platform for Australia’s future prosperity.
Impact on the Renewable Energy Sector
The optimism of renewable industry bodies must be tempered with the reality that Mr. Turnbull is under pressure from his party’s conservative faction not to change tack on climate change or renewable energy policy. To date, the Turnbull Government has not announced any significant changes to Mr. Abbott’s renewable energy policies, beyond keeping the CEFC and AREA.