Australia’s $1.2 Billion Clean Technology Program

When the Labor Government, Greens and independents pass the Clean Energy Future (CEF) package later this year, there will be more than $13.2 billion on the table for renewables and low-carbon investment.

This week it was leaked that Jillian Broadbent, Reserve Bank of Australia board member and Australian Securities Exchange director, is to be the Chair of the biggest new agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will disburse $10 billion.

I am attending KPMG in Melbourne for a briefing on the Clean Technology Program (CTP) elements of the CEF package, to get a sense of what the government wants. So far, it is a little underwhelming.

The hardest thing is that the big polluters are working to stop the CEF being passed and at the same time, actively lobbying to turn it into more compensation, undermining the carbon price.

For example, the Australian Industry Group is at the meeting today and asked the department representatives whether it is possible to divert funding from genuine energy efficiency merit to be used as “compensation” for big polluters who do not want to actually pay a price on carbon. For some people, too much pork is barely enough!

The CTP is designed to grant $1.2 billion to manufacturers to pay for upgrades that increase energy efficiency. Most of this will pay for commercially available technologies, and up to $200 million can be spent on developing technologies.

The briefing has clarified that the key objective of the CTP is to fund energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies.

Could there be a more bland objective?

My point is that there is a renewable energy revolution going on around us.

Even the International Energy Agency uses that loaded term, “revolution” to encompass the depth and breadth of the transformation that we are living through.

Think of the Japanese and German industry in the 20th century and today. They have brought whole new industries to the market — solar, wind, semiconductors, or put their country at the leading edge of an existing industry — cars, computers, industrial plants.

President Obama has set a goal for America’s energy industry in reference to the historic presidential precedent of JFK’s Apollo Program or “Moon Shot.” Obama’s energy secretary, the Nobel physics laureate Stephen Chu, is driving the energy industry to acheive a “SunShot” by 2020.

This will make base load solar thermal and PV electricity generation cheaper than conventional electricity. At this point, the climate debate is over, and we can sit back and watch the market divest from coal and invest in solar.

Australia’s so-called “Greenhouse Mafia” have so addled our brains that we seem incapable of setting ambitious goals like the Americans, Germans and Japanese.

I am keen to see the whole $1.2 billion of the CTP invested in good programs and believe it will be. It is certainly possible for ambitious investments to be made through an unambitious funding scheme.

But the lack of ambitious industry policies will make it hard for the department to make the most out of the money. Rob Murray-Leach, CEO of the Energy Efficiency Council, raised the example of using energy efficient high pressure equipment in foundries that is safely used in other industries but considered new and therefore risky in their own sector. This might fall between the funding criteria, which are blandly designed and not ambitiously designed.

When President Obama visits in October, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Government, public service, Greens Leader Bob Brown and the Press Gallery should ask about SunShot. They should find out how far behind Australia is, how we can catch up, and ask whether we can join the SunShot Initiative in order to share the benefits of the solar revolution.

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Dan Cass is strategist at The Australia Institute and an honorary associate at Sydney Business School. He has advised international and Australian energy companies, and is now on the advisory board of Solar Head of State and was a director of Hepburn Wind. @DanJCass

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