Media Release from Senator Milnes on axing of remote power rebate

The following is a copy of today’s media release by Green’s Senator Chistine Milne, concerning yesterday’s abrupt cancellation of the remote power rebate:

Cat and mouse games with solar sector must stop

Media Release | Spokesperson Christine Milne
Tuesday 23rd June 2009, 12:18pm
– Climate Change & the Zero Carbon World
– Feed-in Laws
– Mandatory Renewable Energy Target
– Renewable Energy
– Solar Photovoltaic Energy

The Rudd Government must stop playing cat and mouse games with the solar sector and provide certainty to all renewable technologies with a national gross feed-in tariff, the Australian Greens said today.

The abolition of the scheme supporting remote solar power is the latest in a trail of destruction the Rudd Government has left in its wake, following the means testing of the solar rebate, the rebate’s overnight abolition without an effective replacement, the ill-thought-out solar credits scheme and the repeated refusal to support the Greens’ bill for a gross feed-in tariff.

“The Rudd Government is playing with the solar industry like a cat with a mouse, using it as a plaything to be tossed aside after the photo shoot,” Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said.

“The Government is bending over backwards to provide certainty to the coal sector and other polluters, but seems to be doing everything in its power to undermine certainty for solar and other renewables.

“The best way to provide certainty for investors in renewable energy is to bring in a feed-in tariff that will guarantee a premium price for all renewable energy generated for a fixed period.

“A feed-in is tamper-proof – Governments can’t pull the rug out from under renewables on a whim if a feed-in tariff is in place.”

Senator Milne first revealed the funding problems with the remote power generation solar scheme in Estimates hearings last month as per the revealing transcript below.

Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee, Estimates Hearings, 28/05/2009

Senator «MILNE» -I will not be very long. I wanted to ask a couple of questions about the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program. Could you give me an outline of where that program is up to and why the major projects and industries support and the island territories support has been suspended?

Mr Carter-The general overview is that the RRPGP funds have been becoming fully committed in different aspects. We have seen quite an increase, and this goes across a number of the sub-elements of the program, particularly as you recall with the price of fuel increasing quite dramatically in the latter part of last year. That generated quite a bit of additional interest in the program and raised application rates. The program is quite a complex one and has a number of subcomponents. As each of those subcomponents has approached being fully committed, we have been monitoring that closely, advising the minister’s office about that, and if it was getting to a point where it was fully committed then suspending that particular element of the program as the funds were committed in that area.
Senator «MILNE»-What is left in the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program? Is it all coming to an end now or just those ones I just mentioned? What is the current status of the program? When is it due to run out? Are you re-funding any aspects of it in this coming financial year?
Mr Young-The program does have a continued allocation of funds in 2010-11 and they are shown in the portfolio budget statements. That funding reflects the previous forward estimates for the program. You were asking about the major projects and industry support subprograms.
Senator «MILNE» -I was asking what is left in this financial year for a start, and then we will come back to the specific components.
Mr Young-In relation to the original part of RRPGP, that had a budget of $205 million. Of that, over $188 million has been committed to subprograms, major projects and industry support activities, and $152 million of that was spent up to the end of March 2009. Of the extension budget, or the RRPGP2 budget, of $95 million, to date $27 million has been spent.

Senator «MILNE»-So $27 million has been spent. There are a number of applications in. You had a possible $68 million or thereabouts to expend. Are you saying that the applications that have gone in will probably exceed $68 million once you have assessed them?
Mr Young -We are not yet at that stage, but we are keeping a very close eye on the situation.
Senator «MILNE»-I take from what you are saying that you have a series of applications in. If they turned out to tick all the boxes in terms of applications, you have probably got to the point now where the whole program would be expended if you were to approve the ones you have got in?
Mr Young -We are keeping a close eye on that situation. The program does continue to be open.
Senator «MILNE»-Which part of the program continues to be open? Are the major projects and industry support open or only the residential and medium scale?
Mr Young-It is the latter part. The major projects subprogram was suspended in September 2008 because there were sufficient applications in place there to commit all the available funds. The residential and medium subprogram continues to accept applications except in the island territories, where applications have now got to the stage of reaching the level of funds available there.
Senator «MILNE»-We have reached the end of the funding for the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program; is that right? Is there anything in the forward estimates beyond this financial year other than what you have told me?
Mr Young -No.
Senator «MILNE»-So it is phasing out. Could you explain to me what people in rural and remote areas are now going to do to fund major projects that they might have or in the island territories or anywhere else? Are they on their own now?
Mr Carter-The program is not yet fully committed, but once it is fully committed there is no more funding provided for currently in that program to meet those requirements. For people who are still looking at putting in those installations-and this is an issue for the Department of Climate Change-the mandatory renewable energy target does provide for «solar» credits, so that will be something that will be available beyond the end of this program.
Senator «MILNE» -Basically, this is the end of this program and then we go into the RET when that comes in, as a way of funding those programs. Is that what you are saying?
Mr Carter -That would be how the landscape looks at the moment, yes.
Mr Young-I might just make one additional remark. With the number of applications still in the pipeline, those which are preapproved and not yet installed, and those which have been received and are still being assessed, there will be quite a significant amount of work to be undertaken in the coming months.
Senator «MILNE»-I understood from what you were saying that they are in the assessment process and that money will be expended on those in due course. In terms of the 1,000 megawatts for up to four installations, will that be something that you will be supervising?
Mr Carter -No. This is the Clean Energy initiative.
Senator «MILNE» -You will not be administering that, it will be administered elsewhere?
Mr Carter -Yes. My understanding is that it is within the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.
Senator «MILNE» -What responsibility for renewables will your department have once this program phases out? Will it just be the household scale?
Senator Wong -I am sorry, I missed that.
Senator «MILNE»-Once the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program concludes, apart from the household level which we have been discussing, is that the only scale at which this department will have oversight henceforth as it currently stands?
Mr Carter -As it currently stands, yes.
Senator Wong-With the existing administrative orders, as you would recall, the Renewable Energy Fund was also in Minister Ferguson’s portfolio.
Senator «MILNE» -Yes. I am just trying to work out where it is all going next.
Mr Carter -The National «Solar» Schools Program remains with the department, as does the «solar» homes and communities plan and «solar» hot water. It is directly largely at the schools and household level.
Senator «MILNE» -I would like to go to «solar» systems. You may need to take this on notice. I would be very interested to know, under all particular programs, what the total federal government funding for «solar» systems has been through the rural and remote program, plus R&D, commercialisation funds and so on. Would you be able to provide, on notice, an aggregate figure for the level of Commonwealth support for «solar» systems?
Mr Young -Certainly. We will take that on notice and consult with our colleagues in other departments who have also supported that company.
CHAIR -We need to wind up in a few minutes for dinner. Senator Birmingham has some questions.
Senator «MILNE» -I will put the last couple on notice.