Saved by the bench: how the Senate crossbench saved Australia’s renewable energy industry

Energy Energy resources Renewable energy Investments National Energy Guarantee (NEG) Australia

Between 2013 and 2016, the Coalition Government attempted to abolish Australia’s three key renewable energy policies: the Renewable Energy Target (RET), the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

These three policies were saved in the Senate, where the government was defeated by the Labor Opposition and various members of the ‘crossbench’ of Greens, minor party and independent senators.

As a result, the CEFC continued financing, ARENA continued providing grants and other assistance and the RET continued encouraging renewable energy generation. In total $7.8 billion in government support has been provided to projects worth $23.4 billion.

In addition, the RET has assisted the installation of 806,000 solar panel systems and 226,000 solar hot water systems between 2013–2018 and the generation of 85m MWh of electricity from large-scale generators.

Saving the RET and CEFC has resulted in emissions reductions of at least 334m tonnes CO2-e. This is more emissions reduction than the government’s policy, the Emissions Reduction Fund, is likely to deliver over its six years of operation (92m tonnes from its creation in 2014 to 2020).

Projects made viable through ARENA funding will also reduce emissions but since ARENA supports early stage technologies, it is not possible to confidently predict the future performance of those projects in reducing emissions.

This support for renewables in Australia occurred at a time of great uncertainty for the industry.

On 17 October 2017, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed a new energy policy for Australia, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The NEG was supposed to solve the ‘energy trilemma’: improve security, reduce emissions and cut the consumer price of electricity. However, following events that ended in the toppling of Turnbull’s leadership and the installation of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, the NEG was declared “dead”. This means that significant uncertainty continues to threaten investment in electricity in Australia.

In 2014 and 2015, while worldwide investment in the sector grew, Australian renewable energy investment fell by half. If the Senate crossbench had failed to save the CEFC, ARENA and RET, the decline would have been much greater and the rebuilding of the industry much more difficult. The future of Australia’s renewable sector was saved by the (cross) bench.

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