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Solar industry, voters rally to save RET – Coalition nowhere to be seen

One day after the Australia’s largest solar farm was officially opened south of Canberra - an event largely ignored by mainstream media - a letter signed by 500 solar businesses representing 3,700 employees has been delivered to the Abbott government, calling on it to back jobs and investment in the solar industry by maintaining the 41,000GWh Renewable Energy Target.

The joint industry letter, coordinated by Solar Citizens and the Australian Solar Council (ASC) and signed by 470 businesses, was due to be accepted by Palmer United Party Senate Leader Senator Glenn Lazarus at Parliament House today.

“The Abbott government has broken yet another election promise, this time to maintain the Renewable Energy Target and placing the future of an entire industry in jeopardy,” said ASC chief John Grimes at federal Parliament on Thursday.

“There are 4,500 solar businesses operating in Australia, the vast majority them small and medium sized businesses,” said Grimes. “By attacking the Target, the government is risking 15,000 jobs in the solar industry.”

Claire O’Rourke, director of the Solar Citizens Campaign called on the government to stand up for Australian businesses and keep the Target strong, rather than favouring big energy.

“Cutting the Target will mean many Australian families who run small businesses will have their livelihoods ripped out from underneath them,” said O’Rourke.

“Australians want the Renewable Energy Target, which is why more than 1.2 million homes have installed solar power, creating thousands of jobs along the way.”

Last night, a small percentage of those 1.2 million solar households helped pack out the Kangaroos Leagues Club in nearby Queanbeyan, NSW, also in protest of the federal government’s plans to axe or slash the Renewable Energy Target.

The 400+ strong meeting was the latest installment of the Save Solar campaigned, led by the Australian Solar Council (ASC), which is targeting marginal seats in Australia, some of which also happen to boast some of the country’s highest uptakes of rooftop solar.

Eden-Monaro is one such marginal seat – back in 2012 (when it was held by Labor) it ranked among Australia’s top 25 electorates with margins of 5 per cent or less that have 10,000 or more rooftop solar installations.

Today, it is held by the Liberal Party’s Peter Hendy, who declined an invitation to attend last night’s meeting alongside Opposition leader Bill Shorten, Greens leader Christine Milne, Labor’s shadow minister for environment Mark Butler, and Australia’s most progressive energy minister, the ACT’s Simon Corbell.

“In an example of the Coalition’s ignorance of the renewable energy industry and extreme arrogance, Mr Hendy told forum organisers he does not attend ‘green’ events,” Butler said in a statement released after the event, on Thursday.

“The Coalition just does not get it. Their ideological opposition to renewables is blinding them from the economic and social benefits the industry provides, in addition to its environmental outcomes,” he said.

What did Hendy miss? According to ASC CEO John Grimes, the meeting was yet another demonstration of “the strong grassroots outrage at the Abbott government moves to kill off solar,” this time from is Hendy’s own electorate, which according to recent statistics from 100% Renewable Energy, had nearly 5,5000 solar households saving more than $3 million a year on power bills.Save SolarEdenMonaro

“Last night’s debate was robust and constructive, but people were still left without answers on the government’s intentions,” added Butler. “This uncertainty is extremely damaging to the clean energy industry but is also frustrating for a community that very strongly supports solar energy.

“This is the second such event that Abbott Government members have not attended. It’s time they start to do their job: listen to their community, represent their views in the Parliament and keep the commitments they made at the election.”

One of Australia’s biggest solar technology success stories, Dyesol, was also represented at the rally, with managing director Richard Caldwell speaking at the event.

Caldwell told attendees last night that the Australian renewable energy sector was not yet at the stage where businesses could operate entirely free of government support; particularly on large-scale developments, which would be significantly more cost efficient than small-scale solar projects.

“In addition to withdrawing critical funding, the scrapping of the RET will determine whether investment in the Australian renewable sector is considered an opportunity or a risk,” said Caldwell.

“For companies like Dyesol in the process of commercialising renewable technology, the Government’s stance does not send a positive message to investors here or overseas and puts in jeopardy years of inventive enterprise”.

Dyesol has invested over $120 million in developing its ground-breaking solid state DSC technology and has received funding from governments and companies all over the world including the US, UK, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

“These countries, although driven by different political ideology all recognise that the renewable industry will not only address our environmental challenges but will create multi-billion dollar industries, providing significant wealth and job creation, while Australia engages in petty and irresponsible politics,” said Caldwell.

“We have already started to see international leaders pull out of their multi-million dollar R&D projects in Australia due to the uncertainty and lack of support for renewable energy by this government who will single-handedly kill off an entire industry sector that has so much already invested in it, and has so much importance for our future.

“The government must show leadership and maintain the existing RET and in doing so, support the renewable energy sector which has the potential to secure our energy future, reduce emissions and make electricity more affordable for everyone. It is also a once in a life-time opportunity for Australia to secure its advanced manufacturing future, create new green collar jobs, and deliver the next wave of national prosperity,” Caldwell said.

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