Politicians reach deal on energy law in Australia

GREENER POWER: The proposed law would boost the renewable energy target set by the previous government in 2001 and increase aid to industries


Thu, Aug 20, 2009 - Page 5

Australia’s government struck agreement with opponents yesterday for 20 percent of the country’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 — more than twice the current level — unlocking a US$22 billion investment rush and reviving hopes of a later emissions trade deal.

In a peace offering in its row with the government over climate-change policy, the conservative opposition controlling the largest Senate vote bloc said it had reached agreement with Climate Minister Penny Wong after days of negotiations.

“Today’s decision is a victory for common sense, it’s a victory for the environment and it’s a victory for renewable energy,” conservative environment spokesman Greg Hunt told reporters after striking the deal.

While the Senate will not formally vote until today on the deal, the agreement raised hopes of a follow-on in November when controversial emissions trade laws will return to parliament, where they were rejected by the Senate last week.

The law would quadruple the renewable energy target set by the previous government in 2001 and provide enough clean electricity to power the households of all 21 million Australians.

The target matches one set in 2007 by the EU, which leads the world in green power technology. Many US states also have set renewable energy targets although there is no national goal.

But critics argue the Australian target will make electricity more expensive in the coal-rich nation without curbing the amount of climate-warming carbon gases that the nation emits, as overall electricity consumption rises.

Currently, 8 percent of Australia’s electricity comes from renewable sources, including hydroelectric generators built late last century, the private Clean Energy Council said.

The proposed amendments would increase government assistance to industries that are heavy users of electricity and also create safeguards for existing investment in the coal mining industry.

Junior Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the Liberals’ decision to support the bill was “a welcome development which is respected by the government.”

However, Wong told the Senate that even with one-fifth of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020, the nation’s carbon gas emissions are projected to be 20 percent higher than 2000 levels.

“The only way we’re going to be able to turn around the growth in our carbon pollution ... is to put a firm legislated limit on the amount of carbon that we produce and make those who create the pollution pay for it,” Wong said.