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Gunning down renewables and starving ‘direct action’

Australia’s commitment to developing and implementing renewable energy projects has been crippled following the federal budget last month, reports Ben Latham.

Millions of dollars have been cut from environmental programs, including the $2.55 billion funding towards the Emissions Reduction Fund, the key feature of the Coalition’s direct action policy, which will now be spread over ten years instead of four.

Research into carbon capture and storage will be cut by $460 million over three years, almost $100 million will be reduced in solar energy funding, and the rebate scheme aimed at installing a million solar rooftop systems across Australia, costing $500 million, has been dumped.

Of most significance, however, is the proposal for the $2.5 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to be abolished and absorbed by a separate industry department, saving the budget bottom line $1.3 billion. The plan hinges on the repealing of legislation that will have to pass the senate.

Renewable research at universities cut

ARENA invests in small green technology development projects around the country unable to attract private finances, including research undertaken by the University of NSW, the ANU, and CSIRO. Budget changes, however, will not affect 181 projects, worth around $1 billion, committed to by ARENA and already underway.

ARENA chairman Greg Bourne condemned the cuts, which will severely hinder Australia’s shift to renewable energy, required to be 80 per cent of all energy output by 2050 to keep global warming in check following the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“If we actually throw away options, a fear for me is that the energy mix that we currently have just gets ossified,” Bourne told the ABC.

Infrastructure is hospitals, infrastructure is schools, but infrastructure is also the energy system that you have within a country and without the energy system, your overall system begins to grind to a halt.

Professor Andrew Blakers, director of sustainable energy systems at the ANU, warns that cuts to renewable energy industries will also have a negative impact on jobs in regional areas, such as the solar industry which alone employs 15,000.

 Wind and solar jobs for the regions

Large wind and solar installations are not in the cities. “They go in the rural areas and farmers benefit from hosting these wind and photovoltaic installations because they get paid a rent for their land and they continue farming. It’s like a second cash crop,” Blakers told the ABC.

Other jobs include earth movers, road builders and people who install and maintain the wind or solar systems all in rural and regional areas – “increasing the supply of renewable energy is ARENA’s main mission.”

Luke Osborne, a local wind farmer near Bungendore, is likewise worried about the effects of the spending cuts to Australia’s renewable energy sector.

“We are a strong and wealthy nation because we have embraced science and technology and we should keep doing that. We shouldn’t walk away from either of those things,” he told  the ABC.

“We need to invest in renewables.  I think we’ve got plenty of resource here and we should be making use of that, ahead of importing oil and ahead of things we know are damaging our environment.”

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