RET deal stalls after govt insists burning native wood waste is renewable

The government is insisting that burning wood waste from native forests be counted as a renewable energy source.

The government is insisting that burning wood waste from native forests be counted as a renewable energy source.

The federal Labor opposition will go to the next election proposing a more ambitious renewable energy target that would enable the large-scale solar industry to gain a share of the subsidised industry.

Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler confirmed the intention on Friday after Labor and the government agreed to end more than a year of uncertainty and support a revised renewable energy target of 33,000 gigawatt hours.

The deal was soured when the government demanded at the last minute that the burning of wood waste from logged native forests be counted as a renewable energy source.

The government had agreed to increase its “final offer” of a 2020 renewable energy production target of 32,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt, but ambushed Labor at a meeting in Melbourne Friday with the woodchip demand.

Following the meeting with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Mr Butler welcomed the decision to meet Labor at 33,000 gigawatts but said there was no way Labor would vote in Parliament to support the woodchip demand and would seek to amend the legislation.

“At the end of the day, the government will have to decide whether that is a deal breaker,” Mr Butler said.

Abbott’s ‘red herring’

Ultimately, however, Labor and the industry does not believe burning wood waste would ever be a serious proposition and believe sealing a deal for 33,000 gigawatts was more important.

“We can’t let a deal disappear because of Tony Abbott throwing a red herring on the table at the last minute,” Mr Butler said.

Mr Macfarlane said he was confident the Senate crossbenchers would agree to the use of wood chips.

He said Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir would be keen, given he represents loggers. He was also confident of the support of Jacqui Lambie, who represents Tasmanian loggers. 

Both sides agreed to leave untouched the small-scale roof-top solar program and to continue to have the Climate Change Authority review the RET every two years.

But the large-scale solar sector is unhappy, believing the 33,000GWh capacity will be largely taken up by wind farms, which are quicker to build. 

Labor will push for larger RET

Mr Butler reaffirmed that if Labor won the election, it would push for a larger RET in a way that would not reintroduce insecurity and harm investor confidence.

The original renewable energy target, agreed to by the major parties in 2009, was for 41,000GWh of renewable energy to be produced from large-scale solar and wind power by 2020.

This had bipartisan support until the Abbott government called for the RET to be reduced to 26,000GWh which, it said, represented 20 per cent of revised total electricity production forecast for 2020.

Following negotiations, the government’s “final”  position was 32,000GWh while Labor, the state governments, business groups, the industry and the trade-exposed heavy emitters, which will be exempted from the RET under a new deal, were prepared to accept 33,500GWh.

The impasse has led to job losses, stalled investment and growing anxiety among Coalition MPs. This week, cabinet decided to increase its offer to 33,000Gwh, but with the woodchip proviso.

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