Labor affirms support for unaltered RET

The Australian Labor Party has reaffirmed its support for the Renewable Energy Target in its current form, with ALP leader Bill Shorten saying that the RET review panel’s report containing recommendations to scrap the scheme “belongs in the bin” in an interview in the Australian Financial Review.

The comments come after the Financial Review ran a piece citing two key Coalition cabinet ministers as being open to compromise on the RET’s future. The same article also highlighted the lack of popular support–even among the Coalition’s own constituents–for significant alterations to the scheme.The ALP’s backing of Australia’s most important remaining renewable energy support scheme makes concrete what has long been assumed by the renewables industry: that the party is behind the RET and the renwables industry. Combined with longtime RET supporters the Greens and–more recently–the Palmer United Party and Motoring Enthusiasts Party, the ALP is part of a united front which will be able to prevent the passage of any legislation that could gut or weaken the scheme. The ALP says it stands against the elimination of the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES), which provides incentives for renewable energy systems with a capacity of 100kW or less.

Incumbent utility players have been pushing for the target to be cut back to a ‘real’ 20%, as opposed to the 41,000 gigawatt-hour (GWh) target currently legislated, which is based on the assumption that electricity demand would continue to grow. Demand for electricity in Australia has in fact declined in recent years.

Many proponents of the RET nevertheless support the scheme in its current form, citing its success in facilitating the expansion of renewables like wind and solar, as well as its contribution to job growth and the potential for the burgeoning renewables sector to be decimated if the scheme were to be altered.

The one possibility for a ‘compromise’ with the Coalition that the ALP has hinted at openness to would be pushing back the target past its current 2020 mark. This is a position supported by Climate Change Authority head Bernie Fraser, as well as the NSW Liberal government, who recently came out with a pro-renewables position that is at odds with the Prime Minister’s cabinet.

The RET was originally established with bipartisan support under the Howard government and later beefed up–again, with bipartisan support–under Labor. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has indicated that he would like the RET to remain a bipartisan policy because of the way it supports local jobs and investment, but it remains unclear whether he supports the 41,000GWh target.

Unlike the Carbon Tax, the RET was not a campaign issue during the last election, and in fact Tony Abbott professed support for the scheme even as he vowed to repeal the Carbon Tax. As Bill Shorten points out: “Liberal and Labor both went to the last election with exactly the same policy. We both supported the renewable energy target”.

As part of its Save Solar campaign, the Australian Solar Council will hold a community forum with Mr Shorten and Greens leader Christine Milne today (Wednesday 16 Sept) at the Ramsgate RSL Club in Sans Souci, Sydney. Event details can be found on the Solar Council’s website.

Top image: Bill Shorten, via Wikipedia

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