Australians understand that renewable energy is a good idea, say the opinion polls.
It’s a pity then that they have elected a Prime Minister who only sees renewables in terms of the damage they are doing to the government’s mates in the fossil fuel industry. That includes everything from coal mining and gas production through to power generation.
And when it comes to mates, they don’t come more generous as campaign donors to the Coalition. The Australian Electoral Commission documents millions of dollars worth. A hundred per cent more than the polluters stump up for Labor.
For many it is the only explanation for two stories broken in the Fairfax papers.
First, it was directions to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) not to invest in wind farms, then it was the revelation that rooftop solar panels were also on the hit list.
Tony Abbott promised to dismantle the so-called green bank along with everything else meaningful to help Australia transition away from a carbon-intensive economy. The senate blocked his ambition.
The fallback seems to be to make life as difficult as possible. So the “shareholder” ministers, the Treasurer and Finance Minister, have used their authority to direct the CEFC Board to defy gravity. Cease investing in wind and small-scale solar projects that have been returning a profit to the bank and therefore taxpayers, and invest in very risky emerging technologies.
But wait, there’s more.
Earlier in the year they demanded a higher investment return without increasing risk exposure. Chair of the CEFC, Jillian Broadbent, wrote to the government explaining the basics in market reality: “Achieving these increased returns would require CEFC to consistently outperform the market by a large margin.”
In what sounded like a piece of political sophistry, Environment Minister Greg Hunt insisted on ABC radio that the original purpose of the corporation was always to fund emerging technologies. A view not supported by the legislation.
Ms Broadbent reminded the government that according to section 31 of the Act the purpose is “to facilitate increased flows of finance into the clean energy sector”. This, her Board has been doing with great success. Fostering wind and small-scale or rooftop solar while returning a profit of one dollar for each dollar invested. Her success is apparently not appreciated.
The Greens accuse the government of a “vindictive form of industrial sabotage”.
Labor is promising to make a real commitment to wind and large scale renewables, a major point of difference at the next election.
Shadow Minister Mark Butler says billions of dollars’ worth of investment are being jeopardised and thousands of new jobs are being sacrificed.
His warning is supported by analysis from the Climate Institute. This climate change sceptic government is blind to the financial risks it is taking as our trading partners adjust to the changes needed. argues John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute.
“There’s a risk that poor policy signalling, delayed action and a misreading by markets could lead to a messy transition that threatens the stability of our financial system,” he says.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno