Clean energy agency fails to show it’s delivering

Australia’s renewable energy agency isn’t showing that the funding it provides is increasing supply, an audit has found.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has access to more than $2.2 billion to provide financial assistance for renewable energy projects undertaken by commonwealth entities, councils, state or territory corporations and businesses.

Auditor-General Grant Hehir

It has supported nine renewable energy technologies including solar, hybrid, grid integration and bioenergy since its establishment in 2012.

Solar photovoltaic-related projects have received the lions share of funding, attracting close to $700 million between 2012-19.

These include large-scale projects including the $166.7 million AGL Solar Project and the $101.7 million Moree Solar Farm.

Twenty eight per cent of 992 applications were recipients of ARENA funding between July 2021 and July 2019.

The agency has approved 538 applications and managed more than $1.6 billion in funding since the beginning of this year.

Performance evaluation not up to scratch

The Australian National Audit Office found grants management was largely effective and selection of projects for funding is aligned with ARENA’s objectives.

But with the agency set to reach the end of its legislated funding in 2022, a report by the Auditor-General says ARENA’s external evaluations since 2017 don’t clearly show how affective its programs have been in achieving what it was set up to do.

“Performance reporting and evaluation frameworks do not position ARENA to demonstrate that it is achieving its objectives,” the report says.

“While ARENA’s grant program management is largely effective, its evaluation and performance reporting frameworks do not clearly demonstrate that its grant funding is increasing the supply and competitiveness of renewable energy in Australia beyond what would otherwise have occurred.”

Auditor-General Grant Hehir made six recommendations including strengthening assurances that ANAO isn’t funding activities that would occur without a grant.

“There is scope for ARENA to improve its evaluations so that they present clear, impact focused conclusions against ARENA’s legislative objectives,” the report says.

In its response to Mr Hehir ARENA said it has taken significant steps in relation to performance evaluation frameworks.

“We acknowledge there is always room to improve, and even taking into account the improvements that ARENA has made, we consider this will be an evolving area of focus and maturity for us,” it said.

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