Xenophon seeks to save ARENA

AGL's Broken Hill Solar Plant
AGL's Broken Hill Solar Plant.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon will vote against a $1.3 billion cut to the Australian Renewable energy Agency (ARENA) contained in the omnibus savings bill introduced to Federal Parliament last week.

Senator Xenophon said the risk of the cut would be a ‘brain drain’ of expertise leaving Australia to develop sustainable energy technology overseas.

“There ought to be a change in the funding mechanism to ensure that if a renewable energy technology has commercial success then the grant ought to be repaid, and there ought to be the ability for ARENA to take an equity in that project so it can reap the benefit of that,” he said.

Senator Xenophon said while his team would not support the funding cut, there was scope to change the way ARENA worked and said he would put an amendment to this effect when the bill reached the Senate.

It included the $1.3 billion cut in its election costings, but it was partially offset by $300 million of other investment as part of a broader climate policy.

Greens Treasury spokesman Adam Bandt was cautious about supporting Senator Xenaphon’s proposed loans scheme, which would allow ARENA to recoup funds from successful projects.

“If ARENA grants fund projects that then go on to become commercial successes then the public’s already going to get dividends from that,” he said.

“We’re going to get jobs, we’re going to get the taxes that come from people being in work, rather than being unemployed, it’s going to deliver a return for Government anyway.”

Mr Bandt said the Greens would consider the idea if it was necessary to maintain ARENA’s funding.

Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council said they supported changes to the way the agency works rather than funding cuts.

“It’s obviously great news to hear Nick Xenophon not supporting the funding cuts,” the council’s chief executive Kane Thornton said.

“The proposals that he’s made we think could be workable, and I think are worthy of further investigation to consider refinement to ARENA and it’s role, and if that’s part of a deal then we’d be happy to look at that.”