• Renewables face an uncertain future in the election win of Scott Morrison led conservation coalition
  • Morrison has been a supporter of coal industry and his government has made it clear it won’t look at extending or introducing a new RET policy once the present one officially runs its course in 2020
  • RenewEconomy says states and their seriousness in pursuing their renewables target along with AEMO’s efforts to push for its Integrated System Plan and corporates choosing renewable power will be crucial for the local renewables market

The surprising victory of the Scott Morrison headed Australian conservative coalition at Australia’s recent elections has definitely not come as good news for the country’s renewables sector. While the opposition Labor party, that tried to make votes believe it was a climate change election, is still figuring out what went wrong and the next immediate steps, the solar industry has to get used to the fact and work out a strategy that it has deal with an anti-renewables government for the next three years.

Giles Parkinson of RenewEconomy described the feeling as a ‘sense of emptiness’. “In 2019, with a re-elected Morrison government, there is no policy back-stop. The renewable energy target is effectively met, and while the mechanism stays in place for another 10 years, as designed, there is no further investment signal, in price or in purpose,” wrote Parkinson in an article following the news of the coalition win. “The coalition simply has no coherent energy policy. Its focus will quickly turn to a grab-bag of talking points and various “mega” projects such as Adani, the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme and Tasmania’s “battery of the nation” project.”

Need for renewables

In its Integrated System Plan, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) expects energy security to be supported by new flexible, dispatchable resources at utility scale in the near future in the country. It sees wind, solar, storage, and hydro replacing around 70% of the country’s coal power capacity that’s set to retire by 2035.

In an April 2019 report, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) said the country had more than 14.5 GW large-scale renewable energy capacity either under construction or financially committed as of 2018-end. The country is easily going to meet its Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 33,000 GWh of clean energy much ahead of the 2020 schedule. However, the CEC called on policymakers to have a long-term energy policy at federal level to keep the momentum going (see 2018-End: 14.5 GW Australia RE Capacity Committed).

Originally, the country was targeting 41,000 GWh of renewable energy but the ruling party, then headed by Tony Abbott, brought it down to 33,000 GWh. While opposition Labour Party promised a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 in case it formed the government, Angus Taylor, Minister of Energy in the Scott Morrison government before the elections,  confirmed in September 2018 that his government had no plans to replace or extend the RET once it is achieved. Instead, the Morrison camp is more inclined towards hydro power than wind or solar.

The Morrison government is likely to implement its AUD 3.5 billion ($2.4 billion) Climate Solutions Package announced in February 2019. It entails investment in Snowy Mountains hydro power, allowing community organizations to opt for energy generation and storage projects including solar PV panels and batteries, among others.

Local media has reported recently that the Coal Council of Australia has been lobbying to get the re-elected coal preferring government to not delay approvals for new coal mines and also supported the controversial Adani coal mine project in Queensland.

While the incumbent government looks the other way when it comes to renewables, Parkinson pins hopes on state governments’ efforts to include a larger share of renewable energy in their energy mix, corporate uptake of renewables and the efforts of AEMO in pushing its Integrated System Plan for the future of renewables in the country.  

Victoria’s state government in Australia, for example,  has just appointed Stan Krpan as the inaugural CEO of its Solar Victoria program. Krpan will lead the implementation of the state’s ‘Solar Homes’ program in his new role. The Solar Homes package is a pretty big thing for the state as it expects 12.5% of its targeted 40% renewable energy share by 2025 to come from household solar (see Stan Krpan to lead Victoria’s Solar Homes Program).

However, Anthony Arrow, an energy and construction expert at Pinsent Masons law firm, wrote in a post on Out-Law.com that things are not so bleak for renewables. “Despite the coalition’s lukewarm support for large-scale solar and wind projects, Australia’s renewable energy market remains strong with continued interest from developers, contractors and investors,” wrote Arrow.