ABC 730 Story Near Lake George

11 May 2015

ABC’s 730 current affairs program ran a story on the ongoing Renewable Energy Target negotiations last Friday evening – you can find the full story here, and a transcript below. The story featured a prospective land owner near Lake George, with footage of the Capital Wind Farm.

Renewable Energy Target deadlock broken but is the deal for real?

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 08/05/2015

Reporter: Matt Peacock

Despite agreement on Australia’s Renewable Energy Target by Federal Government and Opposition there may still be a sticking point – one that Labor calls a red herring that it won’t countenance.

Transcript TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: Today appeared to mark the end of a tortured stand-off, which saw investment in renewable energy come to a screeching halt. After 18 months of political deadlock, the Coalition has finally reached an agreement with Labor on Australia’s renewable energy target. But agreeing on a target is one thing, agreeing on how to achieve it is quite another. The Government is insisting that burning native forest waste should qualify as an energy source, something that Labor describes as a red herring it won’t countenance.

Matt Peacock reports.

MATT PEACOCK, REPORTER: Here at Lake George near Canberra, farmer John Reardon has been waiting four long years to host a wind farm on his property.

JOHN REARDON, SHEEP AND CATTLE GRAZIER: I’m quite convinced that there is global warming, there’s a drought, or an El Nino, forecast possibly to come in next year, and the money from a wind farm would make it easier for us.

MATT PEACOCK: He’s seen his neighbours benefit from wind energy and wants a piece of the action.

JOHN REARDON: From our own personal point of view, it will give us money to invest in the place, it will make the place to a degree drought-proof.

MATT PEACOCK: But investment in wind farms has dried up. That’s because the Government and its Opposition have been locked in a drawn-out battle over the renewable energy target, or RET.

JOHN REARDON: Up until now it’s been on hold, waiting for the to and fro to be decided.

MATT PEACOCK: Today it looked like his luck had finally changed with the Government and Opposition agreeing to reduce the RET target to 33,000 gigawatt hours.

GREG HUNT, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: I hope and expect that this can be settled now. The number has been agreed upon. The small scale has been agreed upon and the detail we look to resolve in the coming days.

MARK BUTLER, OPPOSITION ENVIRONMENT SPOKESMAN: We are very pleased that today we’ve been able to have a serious discussion with the Government about getting this back on the rails.

MATT PEACOCK: The devil is in the detail. While a target has been agreed, what’s not agreed is what kinds of energy sources are in the mix. The Coalition insists that burning native timber is included.

MARK BUTLER: There is no way Labor will support an inclusion of the burning of native wood waste. At the end of the day the Government will have to decide whether that is a deal-breaker.

IAN MACFARLANE, INDUSTRY MINISTER: Well, we are confident that we can get biomass through the Senate using the crossbench. For people like Senator Ricky Muir this is a major issue and we’ve also had that expressed by other senators, so we’re keen to continue to progress the issue.

MATT PEACOCK: Already crossbenchers like senators Muir and Lambie say they support this inclusion, and three others, Xenophon, Wang and Day say they’re open-minded on the matter. Not so environmentalists.

RICHARD DENIS, AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE: Most people didn’t realise it was on the table. Here we are at a minute to midnight with people saying, ‘Oh, by the way, did you realise that burning native forest is part of renewable energy?’ I don’t think people realise that at all, and what is really is a reduction in the renewable energy target – a further reduction because every gigawatt hour that comes from burning native forest is a reduction in the amount of solar and wind.

ANDREW BARRY, AUSTRALIAN WIND ALLIANCE: Discussion has been going on for 18 months and really to be adding in roadblocks at this late stage really raises serious questions about whether the Government genuinely wants to have a deal.

MATT PEACOCK: Industry just wants an end to the uncertainty.

INNES WILLCOX, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY GROUP: We wouldn’t want an agreement to be held up on the basis of that issue when they’re very close to settlement. I mean, they are right on the cusp of settlement and we would hope that they could resolve this very quickly so that we can get the certainty that industry needs.

MATT PEACOCK: And with yet review imminent, uncertainty remains.

IAN MACFARLANE: The Coalition will be maintaining the biennial reviews operated by the Climate Change Authority.

KOBAD BHAVNAGRI, BLOOMBERG NEW ENERGY FINANCE: That also really sends an implicit signal to industry that, ‘Look, this ain’t over,’ by the Coalition. The Coalition, by saying that, is really giving us a signal perhaps that we’re prepared to tinker with this, to reduce it perhaps, to even wind it back further if the conditions are right to do so. So, I don’t think a unanimous signal of confidence in investment has really been sent yet on this policy.

JOHN GRIMES, SOLAR ENERGY COUNCIL: What the Government announced today is that they want to do a deal and have the new review process start in seven months’ time. The Government is not serious about solving this, about giving certainty for renewable, they want perpetual uncertainty and this is how they are going to do it.

MATT PEACOCK: Big solar projects believe the solar energy Council is still unlikely to benefit despite declining costs and a boom in other parts of the world.

JOHN GRIMES: The cost of big solar continues to fall. It means in the years 2018, 19, 20, solar will outcompete many projects in Australia. So under the original target that had a ceiling of 41,000, there was room and time for those projects to come into the market. Because the target has been curtailed down to 33,000 and there has been a pause in construction, there is a backlog of shovel-ready wind projects ready to go. Those projects will move in, the target will be reached very quickly and it means then that those big solar projects will never happen.

MATT PEACOCK: And while wind farms like these are still likely to grow, there won’t be as many.

ANDREW BARRY: We are looking at a 33 per cent cut to the amount of wind farms that would be built between now and 2020, so that’s a lot of projects that won’t be going ahead.

MATT PEACOCK: Big investors in renewable projects have already taken their dollars overseas and they will need convincing, according to Bloomberg analyst, Kobad Bhavnagri, to bring them back.

KOBAD BHAVNAGRI: It ain’t over until it’s over, and investors will be watching very carefully, looking at the detail, to determine whether Australia is a safe place for them to do business.

TRACY BOWDEN: Matt Peacock with that report.

Via ABC 730