The proposal to axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) by ripping $1.3 billion out of the bureau and reducing it to a branch agency in the Department of Industry has been met by criticisms from various groups all demanding the federal government reconsider its decision.
ARENA chairman Greg Bourne said that the decision to abolish ARENA will leave the energy sector in Australia ‘obsolete,’ and put solar industry jobs in danger. ARENA, which supports emerging technologies like concentrated solar energy through grants, faces uncertainty over its funding for 2014-15. Should Tony Abbott’s bill to scrap the carbon price be approved in the Senate; the agency’s renewable energy budget could fall to a measly $331 million from the current level of $436 million. It will then face massive budget cuts with just $15 million from 2015 through 2017.
Overall, the Australian government will be able to save $1.3 billion over a five-year stretch by abolishing ARENA. The Tony Abbott administration says the savings can be used for repairing its budget and to finance other priority projects.
Still, the move was met with numerous criticisms from organizations such as the Clean Energy Council. Its deputy chief executive Kane Thornton said that the removal of ARENA could mean that Australia will miss out on billions of dollars in investments, and lose out on highly-skilled jobs that may be given to offshore candidates. Thornton added that the proposal is a regression for the country known to promote renewable energy, and is ill-timed as many traditional industries like automotive and manufacturing are on the decline.
Senator Christine Milne meanwhile agreed with Thornton’s assessment that the abolishment is a regression of Australia’s renewable energy commitments. She also observed that the move coincided with the Tony Abbott government’s $500 million solar roofs program aimed at bringing affordable solar PV panels to a million low-income households in the country.
Labor climate change spokesperson Mark Butler said that the scrapping of ARENA shows the neglect of the Abbott government on environmental protection.
The Australian Solar Council also condemned the move, calling the lower renewable energy budget pitiful for the solar industry. Its chief executive, John Grimes, said the renewable energy budget given to the agency shows the litany of broken promises of the government to the solar industry. He decried the failure of the government to live up to its promise to deliver an additional 1 million solar roofs by the turn of the decade.
Meanwhile, the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia also called the abolition of the ARENA a regressive step. Its chief executive Kirsten Rose said the agency welcomed investors and industry players who look at the agency as a progressive step for clean and renewable energy.
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She said that the proposal to scrap ARENA sends the wrong signal that investing in clean energy in Australia is no longer a feasible option. She warned that many investors could go to other countries which have stronger and more pronounced policies and support for renewable energy.