The renewable energy industry in Australia might be tempted to pack their bags and find another country to conduct their business if the latest talk in Canberra is true: sources say that the Abbott government will name Alan Moran, an anti-renewable zealot from the Institute of Public Affairs, to a new panel that will review the Renewable Energy Target.

According to sources, Moran will be one of three or four business people appointed to an “independent” panel that will get secretarial support from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet — rather than departments for the environment or industry, which includes responsibility for energy.

If true, that will ensure that the panel is closely monitored by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s inner core, who include the climate change contrarion and anti-wind advocate Maurice Newman — his chief business advisor — and others from the conservative hard-right who neither accept the science of climate change nor the attraction of renewable energy.

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And if true, it will shape up as a disaster for the renewable energy industry in Australia, which has already ground to a halt because of policy uncertainty, and which could face not just the possibility of the RET being diluted, but removed altogether. The Abbott government is insisting on another review of the supposed health impacts of wind farms, despite not releasing a report from its main medical body, and there is also talk that the government support for rooftop solar will also be removed.

Moran has famously hard-nosed views about renewables, and wind and solar in particular. In a panel discussion at Clean Energy Week in 2012, even former senator Nick Minchin, the man who orchestrated Abbott’s rise to power and the scrapping of bipartisan climate policy, said Moran made him “look like a pinko”.

Moran, like others from the IPA, including former head and now WA Energy Minister Mike Nahan, believe wind and solar don’t work, don’t cause abatement, and need like-for-like fossil fuel backup and constant spinning reserve, a myth that is repeated ad nauseum by conservative commentators.

When asked, in 2012, of his vision of the future, Moran’s response was to look 50 years into the past. “We had communism then, we got the Greens now,” he grumbled. He said the energy profile in the 1960s was not much different from today, and “I expect that will continue into the future”.

Moran, who is the head of the IPA’s deregulation unit, was one of the main speakers at a poorly attended anti-wind rally in Canberra, which described the RET as a fraud. He described wind and solar as costly and “low quality”, said their costs were amplified by the need for backup in terms of fast-start conventional businesses, and were “imposing a huge burden on consumers and businesses”.

Abbott has been adopting many of these lines in his recent talking points. As has Newman.

Last week, Moran wrote an opinion piece in The Australian Financial Review titled “Renewable energy sources are just a power failure”. He said the support of renewables entails “crippling subsidies paid by consumers and businesses”, accusing the RET of playing a role in the foreshadowed plant closures of Holden, Electrolux and the aluminium smelters at Kurri Kurri and Point Henry.

RenewEconomy sought comment from the government, but was told only that the RET review details would be announced soon. “The government is committed to the RET and our policy has not changed,” a spokesperson said, emphasising the government is also committed to lowering the cost of electricity.

The details of the RET review had been due to be released before Christmas, but appear to have been derailed because it was unable to dissolve the Climate Change Authority — which conducted the last RET review and found in favour of the renewables industry — which has a statutory requirement to conduct the next review. That may have made it difficult for the government to appoint the Productivity Commission, as some in cabinet had urged. The creation of a panel is a potential way around that, even though the government is not obliged to adopt the CCA recommendations.

Many of Moran’s claims are wrong. South Australia now has more than 31% of its demand sourced from wind and solar, without the need for any new backup generation. The state’s wholesale cost of electricity, and its emissions profile, have fallen sharply.

There was one very revealing moment in Moran’s comments to the renewables industry in 2012. Moran had predicted that renewables such as wind and solar would account for just 1% of global energy by 2050 — less than they do now. But in what must have been a Freudian slip, he acknowledged there was a “slim chance” that a global accord to fight climate change could be implemented — in which case, he said, “there would be 60-70% renewables”.

*This article was originally published at RenewEconomy

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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