Turnbull announces $1 billion for clean energy but there’s great scepticism

Malcolm Turnbull launches the Green Cities conference  on Tuesday night in Sydney
Malcolm Turnbull launches the Green Cities conference on Tuesday night in Sydney

UPDATED: Malcolm Turnbull has finally caved to his supporters instead of the Abbott camp by announcing early today a decisive and dramatic signal move to support climate action. He’s announced not only a $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund but a commitment to retain the Clean Energy Finance Corporation AND the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Media today was awash with news of the fund designed to create innovation and jobs with smart grids, alternative energy such as bio fuels and large-scale solar projects. But organisations in the clean energy space are highly sceptical saying money is simply being shifted around, even though it’s great news that the two agencies will be retained.

At face value this is the most-vote winning confidence-boosting thing Turnbull’s done since winning office and making his statement on innovation, essentially declaring Australia was back in the land of the living, instead of the walking dead(under Abbott’s excessively aggressive anti climate policies). It will be a wake-up call to Labor to get back, strongly and not meekly, on the most important and competitive bandwagon going, the fight to save our planet AND create a innovation clean, green and lean economy.

The move finally makes Turnbull a man of his word. He promised innovation when he was elected and he made many more implicit promises in support of climate action and a range of more liberal policies during his steady campaign beforehand. But in the six months that followed his leadership he has roundly disappointed by refusing to make any major new commitments, in line it must be said, with his promises to his colleagues that he would not change the Abbott government’s stance on major issues.

In fact he has stifled innovation by allowing the CSIRO to be slashed and degraded on his watch and stood mute on a range of other issues.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation was understandably positive. It welcomed today’s announcement.

It also said it welcomed the move to retain the CEFC and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Its statement said:

The CEIF will be jointly managed by the CEFC and ARENA, drawing on their complementary experience and expertise. It will provide both debt and equity for clean energy projects.

CEFC chief executive Oliver Yates said: “The creation of the CEIF will help innovative entrepreneurial companies build their commercial strength, so they can make a positive contribution to the Australian economy and our national emissions challenge.

“The CEFC is a flexible policy tool. The CEFC is pleased to be able to assist government in supporting complementary initiatives and policies through investment mandates that are consistent with the CEFC Act.

“Innovation and entrepreneurial business activity is vital across all sectors of the Australian economy, especially in growth sectors such as clean energy, energy efficiency and low emissions solutions.

“Since we were created, the CEFC has supported businesses working with innovative technologies across many areas. This includes our support for Western Australia’s Carnegie Wave Energy, South Australia’s Sundrop Farms, the Northern Territory’s Epuron, Queensland’s Landfill Gas Industries and the Moree Solar Farm in New South Wales, to name a few.

“We look forward to working even more closely with entrepreneurial businesses that are striving to bring innovative low emissions, energy efficiency and clean energy solutions to market through the support of the new Clean Energy Innovation Fund.”

Mr Yates said the CEFC also welcomed the continued relationship with ARENA.

“The CEFC and ARENA have worked closely together since our organisations were created, and many projects have benefited from our respective skills and experience,” Mr Yates said.

“This includes our continued work in the area of large-scale solar, where we are looking to significantly increase the availability and affordability of this renewable energy resource in rural and regional Australia.”

Under the CEFC Act, the Australian government can provide direction to the CEFC through an Investment Mandate regarding the type, rate and risk of investments the CEFC should undertake.

“We understand the government intends to provide a new Mandate addressing the creation of the CEIF and that this direction will enable the CEFC to target higher-risk, more innovative investments,” Mr Yates added.

“The CEIF will focus on companies, businesses and projects at early stages of development that are now seeking growth capital or early stage capital to assist their businesses get to the next stage of their development.”

Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, was this morning not totally convinced about the new fund. He told ABC radio the proposal was “really giving with one hand while taking from the other”. (The new fund will be financed by $10 million from ARENA over 10 years.

“This proposal obviously keeps the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and that’s a welcome development.

“But essentially it is removing funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and really I guess constraining it in terms of its ability to provide capital grants to the sector into the future.”

The Australian Solar Council was also not impressed. Not at all.

It said in a media release that the Turnbull government would “strip $1.3 billion in renewable energy budget funding”.

The statement said:

“Malcolm Turnbull’s Clean Energy Investment Fund is like an exquisitely decorated Easter Egg. It looks great on the outside, but inside it’s a rotten egg”.

“The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has $1.3 billion in allocated and unspent funds between 2016-2022.  The government has announced it will replace this with $1 billion in funds between 2016 and 2026, taken from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s existing $10 billion budget.”

That amounts to $1.3 billion in funding stripped from ARENA and $1 billion reallocated from within the CEFC.

“The governments ‘beautiful $1b renewables Easter Egg’ is actually a $1.3 b cut in funding for renewables overall.”

Further the Turnbull government has announced that early stage renewable R&D and commercialisation will now be majority funded by debt and equity.

“By its very nature early stage research is speculative.  Almost no projects will be fundable under this model.  This will rip the guts out of renewables innovation in Australia”.

“The Turnbull Government has  tried unsuccessfully to abolish ARENA and the CEFC. This is a backdoor way to gut ARENA.”

“ARENA has played a critical role in supporting research and development and early stage commercialisation of renewable energy projects through grant funding. Stripping its budget, taking away funding for early stage commercialisation, and directing the money be spent on non-renewables projects, achieves its goal through other means.”

And see how the extreme right wing sees the news here (It calls the destruction of the Liberal Party by Turnbull)

As we draw near to a possible election on 2 July, we’ll be watching closely. The whole world will be.

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