Solar energy industry calls for further Government investment

By Angela Dorizas

A leading expert in solar thermal power technology has criticised the Federal Government’s $500 million grants program, designed to accelerate the development, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy technologies, as insufficient.

Speaking at the International Solar Energy Society conference in Sydney, David Mills, the chairman of California based solar thermal energy company Ausra, said the $500 million grants program provided through the Renewable Energy Fund did not go far enough in ensuring the uptake of new technologies.

“Sharing $500 million between ten companies is not going to do a lot for this technology,” Dr Mills said. “You really need market measures.”

The Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, told Government News that the Renewable Energy Fund was supported by market measures.

“The most significant market measure is the introduction of a price on carbon,” Mr Garrett said.

“That is why the Government is actively pursuing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which will transform the market for renewable, low-emission energy technologies.

“A central complementary measure will be the expanded national Renewable Energy Target – a target under which 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity demand will be met by renewable sources by the year 2020.”

Dr Mills said he “applauded” such measures, but further incentives were necessary.

“We need incentives, we need them now and we need them to be big too,” he said.

Dr Mills criticised a lack of government commitment within Australia to develop a national feed-in tariff that would see electricity retailers paying solar powered households and businesses for the clean energy they produce.

“What we see here is a feed-in law promise that seems to be fading,” he said.

“You’ve got the Senate report that’s positive about feed-in law, which supported a market mechanism being considered, and yet that has been held back.”

The Senate Environment Committee inquiry found that a gross tariff paid to households and businesses producing renewable energy contributed to the expansion of the solar energy industry in Germany and Spain.

Two state governments, Western Australia and the ACT, have expressed commitment to a gross feed-in tariff, while other states have announced a minimal fee for households feeding clean energy back into the electricity grid.

This month, New South Wales became the last state to introduce a feed-in tariff. The amount NSW households will receive for feeding solar power back into the grid is yet to be announced.

Mr Garrett said he would work with the states and territories to develop a national approach to feed-in tariffs.

“The Government is aware that some states and territories have either put feed-in tariff regimes in place or are bringing forward such schemes,” he said.

“The Government is working through the Council of Australian Government to develop a harmonised national approach to feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.”

Mr Garrett also announced today that the Federal Government would fund half of a $6.6 million solar power station to be built in Alice Springs as part of its Alice Solar City project.

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