One of the most troubling and baffling casualties of this campaign has been the renewable energy sector.

This is particularly baffling because renewable energy is massively popular in the community and has been repeatedly demonstrated to be technically ready to power Australia at a competitive price. The public response to Beyond Zero Emissions’ 100% renewable energy plan, for example, has been extraordinarily positive, with people crying out for the kind of leadership and vision that only the Greens are providing.

Investing in renewables has always previously been seen as a vote winner — indeed, Labor’s advertising campaign and oft-repeated slogan of “record investments in solar and other renewable energy” suggests that they still believe that it is a vote winner.

How extraordinary, then, that Labor has actually spent this campaign ripping funding away from renewable energy programs, and the Coalition has stepped in and backed them to the hilt. Far from a record investment, we’ve seen money being pulled out from renewables at a record rate.

Here’s the reality:

  • $220 million removed from the delayed and mismanaged Solar Flagships program to fund cash for clunkers;
  • $150 million removed from the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme, which covers, for example, rebates for solar water heaters, also to fund cash for clunkers; and
  • $46.5 million removed from the Renewable Energy Future Fund to fund the carbon farming initiative announced at the weekend.

These are all Labor announcements that the Coalition has seized on and repeated in its savings documents. With Barnaby Joyce still offensively and ignorantly derides renewable energy as “wind chimes”, the Coalition has added to these cuts with “savings” out of energy efficiency programs.

Now, both would excuse this attitude by pointing to the budget deficit and saying that we need to find savings. But why would you find savings by cutting programs that create investment and jobs? Barack Obama’s most recent tweet reads: “Our commitment to clean energy is creating work in the short term — and laying the foundation for lasting economic growth.” This has been demonstrated to be the case all around the world, including in Australia.

The renewable energy industry has an extraordinary capacity to meet and exceed growth expectations. Each time a target is set it ends up turning into a cap on the growth of the industry as installations overtake the target. We saw that, obviously, with the Howard government’s 2% MRET, but remarkably enough we are seeing it again with the new 20% target legislated only last year — and made effectively operational as recently as June by fixing key design flaws repeatedly pointed out by the Greens.

In recent days, renewable energy developers have expressed fears that the $1 billion Macarthur wind farm announced for Victoria could take up the bulk of the Renewable Energy Target for the next several years, dampening the price of RECs and massively reducing incentives to build more.

With the enormous potential for so many renewable energy technologies now being constrained again by a target lifted so recently, Labor and the Coalition need to take their foot off the brakes and let the industry grow!

Don’t discount community anger at the treatment of renewables as a sleeper factor in tomorrow’s result.

Senator Christine Milne is deputy leader of the Australian Greens

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey