Xenophon, while withholding comment on RET, says small-scale solar should be expanded

As the Abbott government attempts to wrangle its proposed changes to the Renewable Energy Target, the future for the solar industry brightened a little, after independent senator Nick Xenophon signalled his support for solar PV, particularly of the rooftop variety, and reiterated his opposition to wind.

“I don’t like wind,” Xenophon told a conference in Sydney last week. “And I think that’s an issue for a lot of Coalition MPs. They do not have same antipathy towards solar.”

But Xenophon, who has refused to comment on his position on the RET, said rooftop solar was something that Coalition MPs would not touch. “If anything,” he said, “I want to see it expanded.”

The Coalition appears to have ditched its idea of halting the RET to new entrants, but seems attached to the concept of a “real 20 per cent” target, or a fixed or rolling target much lower than the current target of 41,000GWh by 2020.

Labor is prepared to go no further than the 41,000GWh target, apart from some exemptions from the aluminium industry and possibly a small extension out to 2022.

The Coalition’s position would mean the standstill in large scale renewables – apart from developments funded by the ACT government’s auction schemes – would continue for another few years. That would mean a lot fewer wind farms, and possibly provide more time for large scale solar to catch up on costs.

Some suggest it is not far away. But the Coalition’s antipathy towards wind energy is holding back the development of large scale solar too – Australia ranks around 33rd in the world in the deployment of large scale solar, even though it should be one of the world leaders.

But the good news for the solar industry is that the small scale target looks less likely to be wound back.

Xenophon says he would like to pursue the idea of tax rebates for low income households to help them overcome the cost of installation.

The South Australian senator, who has previously opposed the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority and ARENA, also told ABC Online this week that the RET needed to be decided upon “sooner rather than later” for the benefit of the economy.

Renewable energy executives, including those running wind energy developments, privately concede that it is antipathy to wind that is holding back the government. They suspect that if the target was all about large scale solar, it wouldn’t face anything like the resistance, even if the fossil generators protested just as loudly.

“Solar doesn’t have the same impact (as wind energy). It doesn’t mean you won’t have wind,” Xenophon said, but there might be some more thought about how much and where it is located. “We are trying to steer to a sensible compromise.”

Top image via Wikipedia

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Giles Parkinson