Coalition says cross-bench senators votes could help them weaken RET

The federal government will take renewable energy target negotiations to the cross-benchers in the Senate, after its “final” offer on the RET was rejected outright by Labor.

In an interview with RenewEconomy on Friday, environment minister Greg Hunt said the government was talking with the eight cross-benchers, including the most recent defectors from the Palmer United Party, but said the government would also continue to work with the ALP.

“We have found in one day more commitment from the cross bench than we got in one year from the ALP,” Hunt said. “It is extraordinary we have not put a firm number on the table.”

The Abbott government earlier this week increased the large-scale renewable energy target to 32,000GWh, from its previous offer of 31,000GWh.

This is down from 41,000GWh currently legislated, but Hunt argues that it is double the current completed installation of 16,000GWh, where some within his party wanted it left.

Hunt and Industry minister Ian Macfarlane argue that the addition of an expected 13,400GWh of rooftop solar will take the combine target back to the original legislated target of 45,000GWh, or around 23 per cent of anticipated demand in 2020.

(The target was amended to reflect a splitting of the scheme. The large-scale component was capped at 41,000GWh, and the small scale target left uncapped).

“There is increasing evidence that the cross bench will ensure that we can reach and approve a 23% renewable energy target,” Hunt said.

This, he added, would leave the small scale solar scheme untouched, and allow for a “near doubling” of existing large scale installed capacity.

It is not entirely clear whether the Coalition can get the six votes needed, given that the newly independent Glenn Lazarus, the motorist party’s Ricky Muir and the remaining PUP, Dio Wang, have said they want the RET to stay as it is.

David Leyonhjelm last year proposed his own bill to wind back the RET, a move that got support from Bob Day, and would likely be approved by John Madigan and Nick Xenophon, who likes renewables but not wind energy. Jacquie Lambie’s position is not exactly clear.

Hunt said that Gary Gray, one of the three-member team on the ALP, and a former energy minister who once described himself as of “similar views” to Macfarlane and former energy minister Martin Ferguson, was the only ALP official keen to strike a deal.

“Our preference is always to do it with the ALP – but other than Gary Gray, no one else is being constructive.”

Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler rejected the latest offer by Twitter, saying the government would have to aim much further north. However, the clean energy industry was more equivocal.

“The clean energy sector is encouraged by the commitment from both major parties to seek a resolution to the political deadlock on the Renewable Energy Target,” said Kane Thornton, the CEO of the Clean Energy Council, in an emailed statement.

“We continue to hold private conversations with both major parties seeking a resolution that will resolve this issue, revive investment and provide a future for the renewable energy sector in Australia.”

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson