Renewable Energy Target: Government, Opposition reach ‘in-principle’ deal on 33,000 gigawatt hours

The Federal Government and Opposition have reached agreement on a revised Renewable Energy Target (RET), but remain at odds over the energy sources to be included.

The major parties have agreed to cut the target to 33,000 gigawatt hours (GWh), but Labor is objecting to the Government’s push to include native wood burning.

The Government and Opposition have been negotiating for months over a cut to the original 41,000 GWh target, which the Coalition wanted reduced to reflect lower overall energy use.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane described the latest negotiations in Melbourne as “fruitful”.

“We’ve agreed in principle in terms of a 33,000 gigawatt-hour target,” he confirmed.

Mr Macfarlane also confirmed that the inclusion of wood burning remained a hurdle.

“We’ve also asked, as we have through the negotiations, that wood waste be included in the Renewable Energy Target,” he said.

“That’s an issue which we’re yet to agree on but I’m confident one way or another we’ll resolve it.”

Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler said he was pleased the two parties had settled on a compromise target.

Mr Butler said he would now consult shadow cabinet and the Labor caucus.

But he said he was unhappy with what he described as a last-minute push to include native wood waste burning.

“Labor is very disappointed that Tony Abbott has decided at the last minute to throw a red herring on the table,” he said.

“There is no case for introducing native wood waste burning into the renewable energy industry.”

Mr Macfarlane said the Government would rely on Labor to pass the substantive legislation, then look to the Senate crossbench to support its plan to include wood burning, also known as biomass, in the range of energy sources that could contribute to the target.

“We will be relying on the Labor Party’s support to carry the bulk of the legislative amendments which will include the 33,000 gigawatt-hour target but we would expect that the crossbench would support us on wood waste,” he said.

“We’re confident that we can get biomass through the Senate using the crossbench.

“For people like Senator Ricky Muir this is a major issue and we’ve also had that expressed by other senators. So we’re keen to continue to progress the issue.”

The Greens have condemned the deal, linking the reduced target to increased rates of lung disease.

“This deal means more coal. More coal means less jobs in clean energy, more pollution, more cancer and more lung disease,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.

‘Time to put the issue to rest’

Clean Energy Council (CEC) chief executive Kane Thornton said the renewable industry would reluctantly accept the new RET setting.

“With the Federal Government and the Labor Party so close to a common position, we are hopeful that common sense will prevail and the two major parties will be able to sit down and quickly resolve this crisis,” he said.

“No-one in the industry is happy about the prospect of a reduced target for large-scale renewable energy, but it is time to put this issue to rest.”

Both the CEC and the Australian Solar Council expressed serious concern at the Government’s proposal to retain the two-yearly reviews of the scheme, which the industry had been assured would be removed.

“These reviews are the root cause of the crisis that the industry is facing, and a deal which guarantees another review next year could be a death warrant for the industry,” Mr Thornton said.

He said the CEC did not support the inclusion of native wood burning unless it could be verified as coming from sustainably managed forests.

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