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Australia scraps $2.3bn RE body

The Australian Government has confirmed plans to scrap 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.

While ARENA will maintain funds of A$1bn for about 180 projects – mostly R&D – that have been contracted since its creation in 2012, it will see its ongoing budget reduced to a scrap of its original A$2.3bn and its functions absorbed into the Department of Industry.

The move in the country's budget prompted anger among clean-energy supporters in the Australia – especially as the Coalition government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott will earmark just A$15m for the Department of Industry to fund new renewables projects and initiatives in 2015-2016 and a further A$15m in the two years after that.

The formation of ARENA was announced in 2011 when the former Labor government set it up to take over-arching control of 11 existing renewables programmes.

ARENA chair Greg Bourne said the change will leave the body with purely “token” funding – though he pointed out that the legislation that created ARENA will need to be repealed by the Australian Parliament before the government can fully implement the measures

Bourne added that ARENA will continue to work with stakeholders to deliver the already-awarded projects “as part of its mandate to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and their uptake across Australia”.

ARENA’s Emerging Renewables Programme will apparently remain operational for now, but applicants should “take into consideration the Australian Government’s announced changes when developing applications for funding”.

According to the local Australian press, a big chunk of the funds saved from ARENA will be used to fund a huge roadbuilding programme.

Clean Energy Council (CEC) deputy chief executive Kane Thorton said “abolishing ARENA is a backwards step for the country” adding that it is “extremely disappointing to see the Federal Government withdraw its support, particularly when in opposition it had supported ARENA since its inception”.

Abbott’s government has taken a tough line with many of the renewables initiatives that a few years ago made Australia a policy favourite with global renewables advocates.

It plans to repeal the country’s carbon pricing scheme and has ordered a review of the nation’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) – with a strong suspicion the latter will be watered down.

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