Queensland Solar Projects at Risk of Funding Cuts

ACF has warned that numerous schemes will stall if the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is eventually defunded in the federal government’s omnibus bill.

Thousands of jobs would be created in Queensland if the 10 large-scale solar projects were to be funded, according to a recent analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The projects, which are earmarked by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) for funding, would avail about 2,695 jobs according to the study.

This figure measured up favourably with the Indian conglomerate Adani’s estimates of 1,400 jobs that its $16bn Carmichael coal mine would create in the state if it receives approval for the more controversial project, the study also noted.

However, the findings come at a time when ARENA’s facing defunding by the government, hence plunging the project in jeopardy.

Parliament is preparing to debate the omnibus bill which was brought to the floor by the Turnbull government to push for budget savings that would include a $1bn slice of funding to ARENA.

This would leave Arena with nearly $300m to spend, including $100m allocated to major solar projects, which are expected to have a collective capacity of 200MW.

ARENA has shortlisted 20 large-scale solar projects to be funded, including 10 in Queensland. It might end up funding between three and five of these projects.

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ACF predicts that the projects could create around 6.35 jobs per megawatt of capacity, and concluded that all the 10 Queensland projects would bring 2,695 jobs.

“The Turnbull government proposal to cut Arena’s budget and remove its grant making function would stifle innovative clean energy projects and jobs,” Kelly O’Shanassy, the chief executive of ACF said.

She added that most of the 10 projects primed for funding by Arena might never take off if the cuts are approved.

“In contrast, Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine would employ an estimated 1,400 people while creating 4.7bn tonnes of climate pollution over the mine’s lifetime and threatening the 70,000 jobs that rely on a healthy Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

Early this year, the federal government announced the cut in funding to ARENA, which would eventually see the agency defunded. The March announcement was combined with the revelation that it (the government) was no longer pushing through its plans to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), and that it would take some CEFC funds and use it to create another Clean Energy Innovation Fund.

Several environmental groups have applauded the government for its timely decision to retain the CEFC, although most were mum with their concerns about the ARENA funding slash.

The energy and shadow climate minister Mr. Mark Butler and the then shadow environment minister said that their party was not willing to initiate a fight to save the agency if it wasn’t going to get the support of environment groups.

“I don’t really understand why Labor interpreted it that way,” O’Shanassy said. “There’s a lot of spin going on in climate change and renewable energy in Australia.”

When the move was announced by the Coalition, ACF immediately gave a press release welcoming the decision to keep the CEFC, and added that it was disappointed by the move to slash funding to ARENA, a decision which “potentially undermines Arena’s role”.

“The facts are you need to fund renewable energy and shift government funding away from polluting energy like coal. And the environment movement has been supporting that for many many years. And any serious politician in the 21st century should be serious about shifting money to the future and the future is renewables.”

ACF now awaits a verdict from its federal court challenge to the government’s approval of the Carmichael mine. In the court case, ACF argued that the energy minister’s approval was inconsistent with the Australian government’s international obligations to safeguard the world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

The minister also argued that there was no obvious link between emissions from the mine and the increase in global warming.

Image Reference: The Guardian

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