Lazarus, with an Abbott bypass: What PUP’s support means for the RET

Palmer United senator Glenn Lazarus last week reaffirmed his party’s support for Australia’s Renewable Energy Target following the release of the RET review panel’s report recommending that the scheme be abolished or significantly cut back. In a press release Mr Lazarus said that the RET “has to be retained” and that “Australia needs to move towards cleaner renewable energy sources and the RET supports this.”

With 3 seats in the senate, the emphatic (if unexpected) support of Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party (PUP) for retaining the RET virtually ensures the scheme’s survival when combined with that of Labour, the Greens and a number smaller parties who managed to secure seats in the senate during the last election.

Although there was initially some equivocation on the part of Mr Palmer with regard to the RET, the mining magnate and newly minted federal MP made a splash before his induction into political life when he appeared on stage with climate campaigner Al Gore and declared his party’s full backing for the scheme in its current form. PUP Senator Mr Lazarus, in his recent announcement, reaffirms and further consolidates PUP’s clear support for an unchanged RET.

Even with any legislative attempts to pare back the scheme unlikely to be successful (passage through the senate would be necessary to, for example, change the current 41,000GWh target), the small scale component of the RET (the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme or SRES) will nevertheless remain vulnerable to changes through the prime minister’s cabinet. The SRES is the main support mechanism in the country for residential and commercial-scale solar power, providing up-front subsidies that reduce system installation prices by up to 40%.

As pointed out previously, incentives under the SRES are in danger of being eliminated immediately through ministerial decree. Although incentives for large-scale renewables projects are in less immediate peril, the industry has nevertheless been rocked by uncertainty surrounding the future of the scheme.

The fact that the likelihood that a worst-case scenario (the abolition of the RET in its entirety) eventuating is relatively small does not lessen the extremeness of the government’s inquiry into the RET review, which has been viewed by the Australian renewables industry as at best grossly misinformed and at worst overtly biased towards vested interests in the fossil fuel industry.

Notably, solar industry analysts Solar Business Services have called for an inquiry into how the RET review was conducted, citing an ABC interview with RET review panel chief Dick Warburton in which Mr Warburton admitted that the fossil fuel lobby would benefit to the tune of $9.1b if the panel’s recommendations are implemented.

Meanwhile, a piece in the Australian Financial Review points out how attitudes towards renewable energy have changed in the last year, even as the Coalition’s apparent crusade against the renewables industry grows more fervent.

Top image: Glenn Lazarus, via Wikipedia

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