Labor and Coalition nearer to renewable energy deal

The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has convened a meeting of the renewable energy industry on Monday in an apparent attempt to gather support to put a compromise position to the Abbott government over the renewable energy target.

Also on Monday, cabinet will discuss a joint letter from the environment minister,Greg Hunt, and the industry minister, Ian Macfarlane – effectively an update on the lack of progress in the RET negotiations.

The government had originally signalled it wanted very deep cuts to the renewable energy target – which requires 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy to be delivered from renewable sources by 2020. It commissioned the businessman and self-professed climate sceptic Dick Warburton to undertake a review, which recommended the target be slashed to about 16,000 gigawatt hours.

After fierce resistance from industry and concerted criticism of that review, cabinet asked the environment minister, Greg Hunt, and the industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, to try to reach a bipartisan agreement with Labor about the future of the program that would allow continued investment without fear of policy change.

Labor and the renewables industry insisted a target had to be in the mid-to-high 30,000 gigawatt hours, and when the government refused to budge from about 26,000 gigawatt hours, Labor walked out of the talks last year.

Now Shorten, who has been under pressure from the union movement – is talking up the urgency of reaching a deal – citing as a deadline the April date when trade-exposed industries face their next normal renewable energy target liability. (Trade exposed industries are already largely exempted from the RET, but one thing the two major parties have agreed upon is that under any new deal they should be exempted entirely.)

“Since Tony Abbott launched its attack early last year, Australia’s renewable energy industry has been in crisis. Something has to happen this fortnight otherwise jobs will go – and I’m not prepared to see that happen. Time is fast running out,” Shorten said Sunday.

“Every day the government has refused to budge from 26,000 gigawatt hours, investment has been undermined. Labor and the industry have dragged the government kicking and screaming from 26,000 gigawatt hours to 31,000 gigawatt hours. This level will still drive investment out of the country and as a result, increase electricity prices and pollution.

“Labor’s position is clear – we want to see strong renewable energy industry in Australia, one that is not undermined by the ideology of the Liberal party. The sector needs certainty and we need a deal now – and we will do everything we can to ensure that happens.”

Renewable industry sources expect Shorten will use the meeting to try to reach an agreed position on a compromise to put to the government – higher than its current 31,000-gigawatt- hour stance but lower than Labor’s previous position. A compromise could possibly be around 34,000 gigawatt hours.

The chief executive of the clean energy council, Kane Thornton, said the government’s current position was “clearly unacceptable to industry”.

Shorten has invited industry, union and renewable energy representatives to his Monday summit.

As well as the overall target, industry has been urging the government to deal with a glut of renewable energy certificates in the market, perhaps by extending the end date of the scheme.

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