RET plan to 'smash investment'

Recommendations of the review of Australia's Renewable Energy Target (RET) would cause havoc to existing and future investments in the country and put 21,000 jobs at risk, the country’s Clean Energy Council (CEC) warned today as the long-awaited document finally appeared.

The review – led by climate-sceptical businessman Dick Warburton – offers several scenarios for the future of the RET, which currently mandates for 41TWh of generation by large-scale renewables by 2020 supported by renewable energy certificates.

One option is to allow the large-scale RET to continue to operate until 2030 with grandfathering of support under the scheme for "existing and committed renewable generators", but closing it to new entrants. That would freeze the RET at current production levels of about 16TWh and leave the country's multi-billion dollar pipeline out in the cold.

The report's alternative recommendation is linking the RET to demand, "setting new targets each year based on renewables representing 50% of electricity demand growth". This method, claimed the panel, would deliver a “real” 20% market share for renewables by 2020.

"This approach would protect the broader community from the cost of subsidising unnecessary additional generation capacity if electricity demand continues to fall," the Warburton report claimed. 

The panel also recommended the closure of the small-scale RET supporting rooftop solar, or SRES, "immediately or, perhaps to not undermine built-up industry capacity that will be needed in the future, phase it out by 2020 instead of 2030".

The options will now be considered by the governing Coalition led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which ordered the review and has already dismantled several flagship clean-energy policies set up by its predecessor since coming to power.

The recommendations were swiftly condemned by the CEC, which said the RET had enjoyed a decade of bipartisan support and took a long-term view out to 2030 – both key factors for investors in Australian renewables.

CEC acting chief executive Kane Thornton said: "It is inconceivable that the review could objectively recommend slashing the RET when its own economic modelling showed this would lead to higher power bills in the long run, while at the same time smashing billions of dollars of investment.

"The review has clearly ignored the vast majority of the 24,000 submissions to the review process, 99% of which called for Australia's renewable target to be maintained or increased," he added.

"If the Abbott Government were to adopt these recommendations, it would take Australia backwards in the global renewable energy race being contested by over 144 countries with increasingly ambitious targets," said Thornton.

Major players in the wind and solar sectors had expressed disquiet over the future of renewables in Australia in the run up to the report's publication.