Clive Palmer has vowed to block any move by the Abbott government to weaken or abolish Australia’s renewable energy target during this parliament.
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Renewable energy, renewable budget?
Liberal MP Andrew Laming and Labor's Andrew Leigh debate the budget impasse and the fate of the renewable energy target.
The Palmer United Party leader has said his party will stick to the promise it made in June to oppose any changes before the next election to the target, now set at 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy production annually by 2020.
Mr Palmer made his remarks on Monday following reports Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann were pushing a panel reviewing the RET to bolster the case for abolishing the scheme.
The hand-picked panel, led by former Caltex chairman and climate change sceptic Dick Warburton, handed its report to the government on Monday.
John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Council, said he had been told by a senior government source Warburton's report recommended abolishing the RET by closing the scheme to new large-scale operators.
But Mr Grimes refused to name his source, before adding that he believed the report would also recommend the scrapping of the small-scale renewable energy scheme, which has underpinned the boom in roof top solar panels.
Mr Warburton refused to confirm such recommendations are contained in his panel’s report.
Greens Leader Christine Milne called on Mr Abbott to release immediately the report's contents.
“The Abbott government has done everything possible to set up the demise of the [RET] because their mates in the big end of town, in the coal industry in particular, can’t cope with the competition from renewable energy,” Senator Milne said.
A report commissioned by The Climate Institute and other green groups found coal- and gas-fired power producers will secure a profit windfall of about $10 billion over the next 15 years if the RET is reduced and even more if it is scrapped. Higher wholesale prices would be the main conduit for the extra earnings while households would also end up paying more for their electricity.
Fairfax MP Mr Palmer joked that the government would have to look to the Greens to support any changes to the RET.
“We won’t be voting for it, so I suppose they’ll have to get the Greens convinced to abolish the RET,” Mr Palmer said. “We wouldn’t be agreeing to get rid of the RET.
“We made an announcement on that that we would be supporting its retention in the life of this parliament.”
Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he would be "very concerned" if the government chose to abolish the target and that the wholesale abolition of the RET would be a backward step.
"If we abolish the target that will send a very clear signal and you could see a collapse of investment in renewable energy," Senator Xenophon said.
Both AGL and Origin Energy, two of the biggest beneficiaries of changes to the RET, said they support a lower target but not the scheme’s demise.
“AGL has for over a year been highlighting the need for policy reform as the RET in its current form is unachievable,” an AGL spokeswoman said. “It is only with policy reform that companies such as AGL will be financially able to invest in more renewable generation.”
Steve Garner, general manager of Keppel Prince, a producer of wind turbine towers based in Portland in western Victoria, said the company would have to shed as many as 100-150 workers if the RET were changed.
“Right now we are facing disaster,” Mr Garner said, adding that even a weaker RET would effectively stall new investment in the sector.
Matthew Warren, chief executive of the Energy Supply Association of Australia, said the current scheme would not be able to deliver on its targets.
"$24 billion of new investment will be required to deliver the current target," Mr Warren said. "In the current investment environment, this is beyond ambitious. Where is this going to come from? What banks are going to lend it?"