Page 2308 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 5 August 2015

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The crying shame in Australia is that both ALP and coalition federal governments over the past two decades have successively turned their back on managing the wholesale transition that we need to make away from coal and towards renewable—the sensible, sequenced transition that supports communities and workers, that builds new skills, that manages price loads for consumers and that invests in the right infrastructure.

What we are seeing from the coalition are the last death throes of politicians who are about to lose the debate on climate change and on transitioning to a clean energy future. Here is why: Australia may not be leading the way but the renewable energy game is well and truly underway. The price of renewable energy continues to drop, and the global investments being made are simply huge. In a record-breaking deal earlier this month NV Energy, a Nevada utility owned by Warren Buffet, has agreed on a purchase price of US3.87c a kilowatt hour for solar power from First Solar’s 100 megawatt plan. That is an extraordinary price. Even going back five years I do not think many people would have dreamed that would be the case. But that is the leap forward we have seen in renewable energy technology and the game-changing reduction in price we have seen, particularly in solar.

Global investments in renewable energy have grown massively since 2004, and while there was a small dip in 2012 and 2013 green energy investments worldwide surged 17 per cent to $270 billion in 2014. This plays out right around the world. China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments in 2014—a record $83.3 billion, up 39 per cent from 2013. The US was second at $38 billion and Japan came third with over $35 billion, its biggest total ever. A key feature of the 2014 result was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries. Investment in developing countries was at $131 billion, up 36 per cent on the previous year. We can see that globally the renewables industry is going gang busters—that is the only way to describe it. It is a bit colloquial, but I think it describes the situation.

Fortunately here in the ACT we have taken policies that have insulated ourselves from the impact of federal policies. We have been insulated from the debate of the renewable energy target that saw a massive drop in investment over 2013-14 as the federal government wound back the target from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours. The ACT has been insulated in the main because our large-scale feed-in tariff scheme has been designed to sit outside the federal renewable energy target.

It is a good thing we insulated ourselves from the RET as the political fight over the target and what was going to happen to it resulted in a 90 per cent drop in investment in the 12 months up to 31 March 2015. That is basically investment totally stalled because, in the absence of clear policy, the industry simply hesitated; they did not invest. That has been one of the great travesties of renewable energy policy in Australia of the last two decades. We have seen continual change in policy. Labor and Liberal governments alike talk about the need for investor certainty, and yet they have completely moved back and forth on renewable energy policy. It has been to the detriment of the industry in Australia.

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