Australia RE sector holds breath

As a new study showed its strong progress in 2013, the Australian renewables industry is on a knife-edge as it awaits the outcome of a review of the national Renewable Energy Target (RET).

Australia met almost 14.76% of its power needs through renewable generation in 2013, including hydro, according to the Clean Energy Council’s (CEC) latest annual review, released today.

The country added 705MW of renewable capacity last year – more than half of it thanks to the 420MW Macarthur Wind Farm – while the clean-energy sector attracted almost A$5.2bn ($4.9bn) of investment.

In total Australia had 3.24GW of wind and 3.3GW of solar in place by the end of 2013.

But the CEC warned that continuing the positive progress of last year is at the mercy of a government review of the RET underway this year, which is “creating uncertainty for the industry and eroding investor confidence”.

The Coalition government led by Tony Abbott will receive the findings of the review by the middle of this year.

Currently the RET mandates that 20% of Australia’s power should come from renewables by 2020, with a 41TWh annual generation goal from large-scale renewable sources.

Critics within the Coalition want to see the target watered down or even scrapped. But the CEC claims that power prices will actually be lower with the RET intact, as renewables would replace increasingly costly gas supplies in Australia's mix.

The RET is one of a series of measures that a few years ago propelled Australia into the front rank of renewables-friendly policy globally.

Abbott’s government has already laid plans to curtail the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and put A$1.3bn ($1.22bn) originally earmarked to support clean-energy projects back into the nation’s general spending pot.

It also wants to repeal the nation’s carbon pricing scheme, leading major global investors such as First Solar to warn that their plans in the country are being undermined by the policy upheavals.