The government has unveiled a $1.9 billion package of investments in new and emerging energy and emission-reducing technologies, and reinforced its message that it is time to move on from assisting now commercially-viable renewables.
The package will be controversial, given its planned broadening of the remit of the government’s clean energy investment vehicles, currently focused on renewables, and the attention given to carbon capture and storage, which has many critics.
The latest announcement follows the “gas-fired recovery” energy plan earlier this week, which included the threat the government would build its own gas-fired power station if the electricity sector failed to fill the gap left by the scheduled closure of the coal-fired Liddell power plant in 2023.
Unveiling the latest policy, Scott Morrison said solar panels and wind farms were commercially viable “and have graduated from the need for government subsidies”.
The government was now looking to unlock new technologies “to help drive down costs, create jobs, improve reliability and reduce emissions. This will support our traditional industries – manufacturing, agriculture, transport – while positioning our economy for the future.”
An extra $1.62 billion will be provided for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to invest.
The government will expand the focus of ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to back new technologies that would reduce emissions in agriculture, manufacturing, industry and transport.
At present ARENA can only support renewable energy and the CEFC can only invest in clean energy technologies (although it can support some types of gas projects).
The changes to ARENA and the CEFC will need legislation.
The government says it will cut the time taken to develop new Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) methods from two years or more to under a year, involving industry in a co-design process.
This follows a review of the fund, which is a centrepiece of the Coalition’s emissions reduction policy. The cost of the changes is put at $24.6 million. The fund has had trouble attracting proposals from some sectors because of its complex administrative requirements.
Other measures in the policy include a new $95.4 million Technology Co-Investment Fund to support businesses in the agriculture, manufacturing, industrial and transport sectors to take up technologies to boost productivity and reduce emissions.
A $50 million Carbon Capture Use and Storage Development Fund will pilot carbon capture projects. This technology buries carbon but has run into many problems over the years and its opponents point to it being expensive, risky and encouraging rather than discouraging the use of fossil fuels.
Businesses and regional communities will be encouraged to use hydrogen, electric, and bio-fuelled vehicles, supported by a new $74.5 million Future Fuels Fund.
A hydrogen export hub will be set up, with $70.2 million. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has been a strong advocate for the potential of hydrogen, saying Australia has competitive advantages as a future hydrogen exporter.
Some $67 million will back new microgrids in regional and remote communities to deliver affordable and reliable power.
There will be $52.2 million to increase the energy productivity of homes and businesses. This will include grants for hotels’ upgrades.
The government says $1.8 billion of the package is new money.