(Caroline Reid) The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, seems to be hell-bent on a mission to undo the country’s past carbon emission-reduction efforts. Last Sunday, the federal government announced that not only will it ban the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) from investing in existing wind technology, but small-scale solar power projects as well. Instead, the CEFC will focus its energies on “emerging technologies.”
The CEFC is an organization that lends funding to renewable energy projects. This new ban will be stifling not just for them, but for the future of renewable technologies since one-third of CEFC funding is in solar projects, and many of them are small-scale solar projects, including investing in household rooftop panels. It’s not as though small-scale solar projects aren’t popular either: nearly 15% of houses in Australia are equipped with solar panels.
The CEFC hasn’t sat idly after this seemingly unfair ruling. The company is getting legal advice about whether Abbott can enforce these new restrictions without having approval from the Senate. Senior lawyers have already stated that the CEFC may have legal grounds to fight the solar and wind energy ban.
Abbott defended his actions by insisting that the idea behind CEFC was only to invest in new, emerging technologies and not existing, mature technologies. “It is our policy to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because we think that if the projects stack up economically, there’s no reason why they can’t be supported in the usual way,” the Prime Minister told reporters. “But while the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies – certainly not existing windfarms.”
Abbott’s actions since he became Prime Minister don’t exactly bolster his claim that he wants to support renewable energy. Since 2013, when he was elected, Abbott has lowered Australia’s renewable energy targets from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours, broken up Australia’s Climate Commission body and even dropped the science minister between 2013-14, essentially silencing representation from the science sector. The actions don’t match up with his statements, and it’s difficult to conclude that there isn’t some hidden agenda.
The Prime Minister of contradictions has also recently approved the opening of a huge coal mine in New South Wales that will operate until 2046. This is in light of a pressing need for Australia to source its energy needs from renewable sources instead of coal and oil. Releasing pollutants is damaging one of Australia’s most precious jewels: the Great Barrier Reef. Fishermen have recently reported seeing a 1-kilometer (over half a mile) long slick of oil. This unconfirmed incident comes as a reminder to Australia that creating a dependency on the oil and coal industry may come at a high cost.
The move away from solar technology investment seems counterintuitive since Australia is famed for being a sun haven. In fact, a solar potential map of Australia for 2013 shows that a significant portion of the country had the potential to produce more than 1500 kilowatts per hour (kWh) of solar-generated electricity.
Scott Ludlam, the acting Greens leader, told reporters in Perth that the Prime Minister’s agenda is to “handcuff” Australia to the coal and gas industry. “It’s a form of, I think incredibly dangerous and vindictive industrial sabotage. They’re trying to knock over the wind energy sector.”
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, added: “The guidelines now being proposed by Mr Abbott mean that basically the only thing the CEFC could invest in is flying saucers, because anything that is any closer to development than that, Mr Abbott has conveniently saying is an established technology.”
With wind and solar power off the radar, the only options left for the CEFC are the high-risk options. The move might not spell ‘doom’ for the organization, but for them, Australia’s blazing skies just became a little bit dimmer – the Sun now a frustratingly wasted resource.