Malcolm Turnbull must end uncertainty over renewable energy target

Investment in large clean-energy projects is needed if Australia has any hope of slowing climate change.

Australia signed up for some major changes in Paris in 2015. The only way to follow through on the promise to bring climate change under control is to rapidly shift our electricity system from dirty to clean energy.

Our existing wind power fleet of nearly 4000 megawatts will need to more than double by the end of this decade and large-scale solar projects will have to pick up some of the momentum that has seen rooftop solar thrive.

So, it's all hands on deck, right? Well, not quite yet. Australia is not moving fast enough to meet even our modest goals.

Investment in large-scale renewable energy in Australia has stalled, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The renewable energy target (RET), the primary policy instrument to promote clean energy since 2001, is yet to recover from the Abbott government's attacks on the sector over the past two years.

The ACT government's wind and solar auctions and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation have delivered a material but limited number of projects. Beyond these, just $15 million has been invested since February 2014 on big wind, solar or other clean energy projects. In 2013, that figure was $2 billion.

The warm-up acts have done their job, but the main drawcard, the RET, refuses to appear. And the audience is getting restless.


Farmers and businesses in wind districts across regional Australia are impatiently waiting for the economic boost that wind projects provide and voters, who consistently endorse renewable energy in opinion polls, want to see government getting on with it.

Australia must embrace wind power if we are to keep pace with the shift in the world energy economy. Wind farms remain the cheapest source of large-scale renewable energy here at home and overseas. Like solar power, the cost of wind power is dropping, making it competitive with coal and gas. The American Wind Energy Association reports that in the US, the cost of wind power has dropped by 66 per cent in the past six years and in many states it is the cheapest power – dirty or clean – available.

A surge in the premium Australian wind farms receive to sell their clean power, to $77 a megawatt hour, can easily cover the cost of new wind farms, but concerns about future energy market policy are keeping banks and buyers out of the the market.

To future-proof the nation's energy supply, the Turnbull government must move from rhetoric to concrete support for a renewable energy push. Voters, farmers and regional communities want it.

The elevation of Malcolm Turnbull has seen senior government ministers publicly commit to supporting renewable energy. This goes some way towards rebuilding investment confidence, but a change of tone is not action.

Political parties must look beyond 2020. Large-scale infrastructure, whether it's wind farms or power stations, take years to plan and build, and operate for decades, meaning firm, bipartisan and long-term policy is needed.

Australia must embrace wind power if we are to keep pace with the shift in the world energy economy.

Assuming we reach our renewable energy target of 23 per cent by 2020, where do we go from there? What targets does the government want to reach by 2030 and 2050 and which policy mechanisms will ensure we get there? How do we retire ageing, dirty coal-fired plants and help workers in these industries transition to new employment?

With an election just around the corner, the electorate wants answers.

The opposition has declared an aspiration to achieve 50 per cent renewables by 2030, but is yet to detail how it will be achieved. Labor needs to put its cards on the table.

At this stage, only the Greens have clear goals and policy detail on the table. To achieve its goal of 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030, the party promises to increase the RET and significantly expand investment.

The ball is now firmly in the major parties' court to articulate a competing vision, complete with policy detail.

Clear policy markers from each of the major parties about how they will continue Australia's success with renewable energy are sure to be a vote winner.

When it comes to inaction on clean energy, there is no longer anywhere to hide.

Andrew Bray is from the Australian Wind Alliance.