The Future of Australia’s Wind and Solar – Up in the Air?

Professor David Schlosberg and Professor Christopher Wright reflect on the Abbott Government’s decision to no longer finance wind and solar.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has failed to hide his opposition to dry up investment in wind as well as roof-top and small-scale solar energy projects. Mr Abbott said it is “no secret” he wants the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) abolished but believed, in the mean time, it is not useful for the CEFC to invest in established technologies that can easily attract private funding. Instead, investments in large-scale solar projects including thermal technologies, in improving energy efficiency and in emerging technologies such as wave energy were considered more worthy of funding.

Currently, around a third of the CEFC’s investment involves small-scale solar while 30% is for energy efficiency, 21% wind and 16% covers other technologies. In its first full year of operation, the CEFC contracted investments of over $900 million in projects over $3 billion in total value. Labor has claimed the government’s “blood-letting” the CEFC, as it is not making it possible for the organisation to do its job.

“The Federal Government is actively sabotaging a major industry,” Professor David Schlosberg, Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute, said. “The government wants to eliminate any threat to coal and gas and this decision is a transparent move to support their carbon-based interests. The expense is not only for the environment but also for economic development in Australia.” He added that while investment in improving energy efficiency and other technologies like wave energy were important, this cannot be the only thing. “Investment needs to be forward thinking and the Abbott government is supporting a dying industry”.

Professor Schlosberg has just returned from the ‘Our Common Future Under Climate Change’ Conference at UNESCO and UPMC in Paris. He was particularly drawn to the thoughts of Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who sounded a stark warning that there needs to be an “induced implosion of the carbon economy” if we want to avoid dangerous climate change. “The responsibility for financing this transition cannot lie with the poor.” Mr Schellnhuber added, “If we are willing to invest in a long-term future for our children in the form of their education, we should also invest in the climate those children will live in.”

Professor Christopher Wright of the Balanced Enterprise Research Network noted that there has been extensive journalistic interpretation of Mr Abbott’s motivations in seeking to limit the CEFC’s abilities. “It seems clear the Government and the PM are determined to seek the abolition of the CEFC given its association with the former Gillard Labor Government,” he said. Professor Wright referred to Dr Richard Denniss who convincingly argues that the Prime Minister’s policy decisions are often defined by his focus on attacking perceived enemies – in this case, environmentalists and Greens. However, there is an apparent link to the role of the fossil fuel sector in their electoral support for the Coalition in the last election.

“This [decision] may indeed result in a pushback to Liberal backbenchers while the attack on residential solar also has the potential to upset a broader range of the electorate as solar PV is hugely popular across the political spectrum,” Professor Wright said. Mr Abbott’s latest decision comes just days after the announcement by the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to approve the Shenhau coal mine proposal in the Liverpool plains, which clearly upset the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and undermined his political capital in the rural sector.

Professor Wright added that it is very hard to tell just yet if there will be political ramifications for the Prime Minister but that the Government is “lucky to have a largely ineffectual and unpopular Opposition that seems incapable of developing a coherent climate change or environmental response.” With the Abbott government continuing to benefit from strong support of the fossil fuel industry, by attacking renewable energy and commitments to greenhouse emissions reductions, the Government is able to play to its conservative base and signal its ideological positioning.

Top Image: Ivana @ St Nicks, Westmill co-op