Government agrees “in principle” to 33,000 GWh renewable energy target

A deal on the renewable energy target is tantalisingly close, with the government agreeing “provisionally” to a revised target of 33,000 GWh of renewable energy capacity by 2020. However, conditions such as the compulsory review of the scheme every two years and including electricity generated from biomass threaten to delay a resolution.

Crucially for those looking to install solar on their homes or business, the new target doesn’t interfere with current subsidies for rooftop solar panel or solar hot water systems.

“We’ve agreed in principle in terms of a 33,000 gigawatt target. We’ve also asked, as we have through the negotiations, that wood waste be included in the renewable energy target and that’s an issue which we’re yet to agree on,” announced Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.

Previously the government had offered a compromise deal at 32,000 and looked to be holding strong. Counter-offers from the opposition for a target in the mid 30,000s were trumped when the Clean Energy Council recommended a compromise figure of 33,500 GWh in the hope of cutting a deal and restoring confidence in the renewable industry.

In addition to including electricity generated from biomass in the new target, the government wants to legislate a review of the scheme every two years by the Climate Change Authority. This is despite the recommendation from the CCA themselves that the reviews be scrapped due to the negative effect such uncertainty would have on investor confidence.

All parties will now take the 33,000 GWh offer back to cabinet, which the government is insisting will include not only large-scale solar and wind projects but electricity generated from biomass as it suggested during the Warburton review.

Renewable energy in Australia is not some sort of boutique industry which Tony Abbott, the climate sceptic, treats it as,” explained opposition leader Bill Shorten. “I’m pleased the government has been dragged kicking and screaming to a common sense compromise.”

Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler was equally displeased with the government’s proposal. “We’d prefer Tony Abbott stuck to his election promise and secured the existing renewable energy target of 41,000 gigawatt hours, but at the end of the day he’s taken the decision to break his promise and launch a reckless attack on the industry.

It has long been feared that including wood-waste and electricity generated from biomass resources would lead an increase in logging and promote burning native-forrest wood, an argument that saw it excluded when the renewable energy target was first expanded the former Labor government.

Representatives from the large-scale solar industry are furious at the lower target. “A Renewable Energy Target (RET) deal at 33,000GWh by 2020 won’t build big solar,” claims Australian Solar Council CEO John Grimes. “The slashed target will quickly be taken up by wind alone.”

Ultimately, those hoping that solar will make up a larger slice of our electricity mix will be best served by joining the millions of Australians that have installed solar on their own rooftops to avoid future electricity price increases.