Government directive against wind and solar investments surprises industry and crossbenchers

Solar power

Crossbench senators who negotiated the Renewable Energy Target (RET) did not know the Abbott Government would stop all new investment in wind power through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), but understood the mix would change in favour of large-scale solar.

The government has been accused of putting international investment at risk after Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann wrote to the CEFC calling for a complete halt to any financial backing for wind farm projects.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Trade Minister Andrew Robb insisted in July the deal reached with the crossbench over the RET always meant the CEFC would refocus its investment decisions on backing emerging technologies, which they said was the $10 billion agency’s “mandate”.

But that has come as a surprise to the CEFC, which most recently facilitated a finance package in June for a $450 million wind project in Ararat, western Victoria, and has a number of potential wind projects in its pipeline of potential investments.

The government tried and failed to abolish the profit-making CEFC after failing to get Senate support and its latest strike against wind is expected to further scare renewable energy investors away from Australia, according to Labor and the Greens.

“While the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies, certainly not existing wind farms,” Mr Abbott said, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Abbott Government then opened up another front against renewable energy by pulling the plug on investments in the most common form of alternative energy, rooftop and small-scale solar. The move puts a stop to solar investments other than the largest industrial-scale projects.

The solar industry has been left fuming by a letter to the CEFC by Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in which they direct investments in household and small-scale solar to be “excluded” from the $10 billion fund in the future, according to Energy Matters.

The draft investment mandate calls for “mature and established clean energy technologies… to be excluded from the corporation’s activities, including extant wind technology and household and small-scale solar”.

Currently, about a third of all CEFC investments involve small-scale solar. The corporation, which has produced more than a $1 profit for the government for every $1 invested, was assessing $500 million in finance for solar projects valued at more than $1 billion.

There are 1.3 million rooftop solar systems in Australia and most households receive publicly-backed rebates to install.

In July, a $100 million deal between Origin Energy to facilitate solar take up was announced.