Construction of the southern hemisphere’s largest solar PV plant is getting underway. This follows swiftly on from the announcement that Australia has recently completed its two millionth small-scale renewable installation, just eight months after reaching the initial million mark.
On first glance it appears Australia’s time in the renewable sun is just around the corner. Deployment of solar PV has grown at a 48% compound annual growth rate since 2005, and the state of South Australia generated over 25% of power supply during peak output in January. Yet AGL Energy’s 102MW Nyngan Solar Plant provides a false glimmer of hope for Australian renewables, which are struggling to break through the billowing smoke of the fossil fuel industry.
The Verdantix Energy Profile of Australia, highlighted how power generation is overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels, with coal generating 70% of electricity, dwarfing both wind and solar at 2% and 1% respectively.
It appears the clouds are gathering for renewables as the government is planning to water down the Renewable Energy Target – a subsidy scheme which has underpinned the surge in solar and wind investment in recent years.
Elected in September 2013 on a mandate to scrap the carbon tax, the Coalition is on the warpath to put renewables on the backburner and cement Australia’s dependency on fossil fuels, as it seeks to put the brakes on rising electricity prices.
Details released in December on the Emissions Reduction Fund – the cornerstone of the Coalition’s new energy and climate change legislation – reveals that the firms failing to meet emissions reductions targets will most likely go unpunished.
With a declining manufacturing sector, the Coalition is pinning its hopes on export-led economic growth by shipping raw materials to Asian markets. As such it has announced a wave of tax breaks for mining firms such as the Exploration Development Incentive and the abolition of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.
Buckling under pressure from heavy industry, the government has approved plans to dump dredged sediment in the Great Barrier Reef as part of plans to expand the Abbot Point coal terminal in Queensland. Indian firms Adani and GVK both plan to build export terminals at Abbot Point to ship Australia’s black gold to the subcontinent.
As the Coalition continues to scale back its support for renewables and release coal power plants from the shackles of the carbon tax, it could be a lot longer than 8 months until the next million renewable installations are up and running.