Australia has a new PM: What’s in store for solar?

Malcolm Turnbull is now ensconced as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia after besting Tony Abbott in a dramatic showdown whose similarities to the travails of the previous Labor government are impossible to ignore. What does the election of a centre-right politician to the helm of what was until recently the most anti-renewables government in the country’s history bode for the solar industry?

The short answer is that it is still too early to tell, but the situation certainly does feel slightly sunnier and optimistic. Turnbull is known to be a fan of renewable energy, and his willingness to work with Labor on a carbon emissions trading scheme was part of the reason he was deposed by Abbott as Coalition leader back in 2009. These facts alone suggest that his leadership will not pursue the sort of proactively antagonistic campaign against renewable and climate policy that his predecessor did. (Read more analysis about Turnbull’s and renewables on RenewEconomy and Climate Spectator [subscription required].)

At the same time, political realities mean that he is likely to be constrained from overseeing the enactment of any significant new pro-renewables policy – the climate-denying, pro-coal faction of the party is after all still there, even if their preferred leader no longer leads. The least the solar industry can hope for is a cessation of the quixotic crusade that has been underway since Abbott took the reins of government two years ago.

But the industry is hoping for (and pushing for) something better than the status quo. Australia’s two top solar advocacy groups – Solar Citizens and the Australian Solar Council – have wasted no time in turning to their constituents to take advantage of this opportunity to send a clear message to Turnbull that solar needs to be put back on the agenda.

Solar Council chief John Grimes was cautiously optimistic the news in a mail-out to its followers:

We have always said that if we cannot change the Government’s policy, then we need to change the leader.

As I said recently:

“Our objective has been to encourage the Liberal Party to change its leader, to encourage them to promote a leader who has a positive vision for renewables and solar and if that’s the outcome, it’s job done.”

“If there’s a different prime minister then it is a different government. We don’t see a pathway where Prime Minister Abbott can lead Australia to a positive renewable energy future; it’s simply not possible.”

Can Prime Minister Turnbull deliver for solar?

Meanwhile, Solar Citizens director Claire O’Rourke invoked followers to strike while the iron is hot by sending emails to the new PM exhorting him to give solar support.

Yesterday Mr Turnbull announced to the nation that he wanted to be the type of leader who “explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities”, a leader who “respects the people’s intelligence”.

We’re glad to hear it. Here on the sunniest continent on earth, the majority of Australians want to see more solar and renewables, not less. The Australian people want to harness our plentiful solar resources to power our economy, create jobs, cut electricity bills and leave a better world for our children. I reckon that’s simple and pretty smart for the country too, but he needs to hear from you.

All in all, Turnbull’s election is a step in the right direction from the perspective of the solar industry, but even in a best-case scenario renewables policy under a Coalition government will still be a far cry from the 50% by 2030 renewable energy target which the Labor Party is currently advocating. This makes a vote in favour of Labor (or the Greens) in the next election the obvious choice for renewable energy supporters across the country.

Top image via Solar Citizens

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

James Martin II