Coalition maintains position on ‘real 20%’ RET, but could small-scale solar take the hit instead?

Although it may to some degree be a matter of political posturing in order to ensure room for negotiations, the Coalition government is quite vocally holding firm on its call for the Renewable Energy Target to be reduced to a ‘real 20%’, floating target. This was clear in the Coalition’s initial position on negotiations over the scheme, and driven home with the emphatic comments of Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane in an interview with ABC’s Insiders, during which he proclaimed that the Coalition’s support for a 20% RET was in line with promises made during the past election.

Uncertainty about the target has been wreaking havoc on the large-scale renewables industry and causing a mini-boom for small-scale solar, as customers flock to install systems out of concern that up-front incentives will be slashed. The Coalition’s position would see the current target for 2020–41,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of renweables–transformed into a ‘real target’ that is ‘recalibrated‘ annually to reflect overall electricity demand expectations for the coming year. Due to sagging electricity demand across the country over the past few years, the 41,000GWh target would contribute more in the neighborhood of a 28% from renewables by 2020 if new demand level predictions eventuate. It is for this reason that the Coalition is calling for a (presumably tentative) 26,000GWh target for 2020 instead.

Meanwhile, the other key tenet of the government’s position on the RET is the retaining of the small-scale section of the scheme (the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme or SRES), untouched. While the 2020 overall target cannot be altered without passing through an unruly and uncooperative senate, the SRES–which provides up-front financial support for installation of systems up to 100kW–could be significantly weakened through ministerial decree, although this appears unlikely given the broad support for rooftop solar among voters. Still, the Coalition’s initial proposal to leave the SRES untouched seems to indicate that this may change through negotiations–but any alterations could reflect badly on the Opposition, should they allow them.

RMIT renewables expert Alan Pears recently neatly summed up the current debacle in an article in the Conversation. In the article, he pointed out that the large-scale renewable energy industry feels less close-to-home for many voters than the rooftop solar industry, and changes made to the large-scale target are likely to have less of a tangible political impact on constituents of any party. Nevertheless, Labour, the Greens, Palmer United and other independents maintain that they will not allow for the current target to be reduced. Perhaps this is why Pears rather evocatively titled the article ‘The perils of using renewables as a political football’, and wrapped up his thoughts with the sentence “I’m glad I’m not Ian Macfarlane.”

Top image: Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, photo via Wikipedia

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