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A number of renewable energy stakeholders have released responses to the changes announced in the recently released Federal Budget.

The Australian Government has announced its intention to repeal the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011 and abolish ARENA, returning its functions to the Department of Industry and returning $1.3 billion to consolidated revenue.

The Government has indicated it will earmark $15 million for the Department of Industry to fund new projects and initiatives in 2015-16 and a further $15 million in 2016-17.

ARENA Chair Greg Bourne said the ARENA Act will need to be repealed by the Australian Parliament before the Government can give effect to any of these arrangements.

“In the meantime, ARENA will continue to perform its functions under the ARENA Act, including accepting and assessing applications,” Mr Bourne said.

The Budget changes do not affect the 181 projects, worth close to $1 billion that already have funding agreements in place with ARENA.

ARENA says it will continue to work with stakeholders to deliver these projects and monitor milestones as part of its mandate to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and their uptake across Australia.

The Clean Energy Council has voiced strong opposition to the Government’s proposals:

“The proposed scrapping of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) in tonight’s Federal Budget will be a backwards step for Australia’s drive to develop innovative new renewable energy technologies, and for Australian and international companies who have been working to bring investment to Australia, the peak body for the clean energy industry said tonight.

Clean Energy Council Deputy Chief Executive Kane Thornton said many companies had been driving innovation in exciting new technologies like large-scale solar, geothermal and ocean energy, and now the development and commercialisation of homegrown innovations will likely go offshore, along with the jobs and investment they would bring.

“A global race for renewable energy is on, and the removal of ARENA will see potential Australian and international investors now look to countries with much stronger support for renewable energy innovation, meaning we may well miss out on billions of dollars of investment and highly-skilled jobs,” Mr Thornton said.

“Abolishing ARENA is a backwards step for the ‘clever country’ at a time when job losses in traditional industries like the automotive and manufacturing sectors mean we need new, innovative industries to take their place and fill this void.”

Mr Thornton said ARENA was established with strong bipartisan support to fund research and development in renewable energy, but abolishing the agency will stall progress in these exciting technologies and simply increase our reliance on increasingly expensive energy sources, such as gas. This would be bad news for consumers who want more renewable energy and bad news for the Australian economy.

“It’s extremely disappointing to see the Federal Government withdraw support for ARENA, particularly when in opposition it had supported ARENA since its inception,” he said.

The changes also mean that the Million Solar Roofs program is unlikely to proceed, as it was previously understood to be funded by ARENA.

“The Million Solar Roofs program was a Federal Government election commitment, and it’s disappointing to see it abandoned before it had even begun,” Mr Thornton said.

“This is a blow to low income households which stood to gain from being able to access solar through the program, as well as for local manufacturing jobs that are created by the solar water heating industry.”

Mr Thornton said cuts to these programs meant it was more important than ever that the Renewable Energy Target, which is currently under review, be retained in order to continue to encourage the uptake of everything from household solar hot water systems right up to large-scale solar power plants.

“With ARENA and Million Solar Roofs now off the table, the role of the Renewable Energy Target in supporting new energy technologies is absolutely crucial. The target is already playing its role in encouraging new renewable energy projects at little cost to consumers – in fact, by 2020 the Renewable Energy Target will save every Australian household more than $50 on their power bill,” he said.

“If the Renewable Energy Target is reduced or wiped out, all Australians will lose.”

However, the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEAAUS) sees the review of Australia’s Renewable Target (RET) as an opportunity to emphasise its necessity.

‘The Sustainable Energy Association of Australia believes this is an opportunity for the renewable energy industry to reiterate the substantial benefits a stable target has delivered – and will continue to deliver – to the Australian economy.

‘”The fixed renewable energy target has enjoyed bipartisan support for good reason since its inception under the Howard government. The RET represents over $18 billion dollars of investment, and has been a critical factor in creating a new, growing industry that is a competitive advantage for Australia,” SEA Chief Executive Kirsten Rose said.

‘The Terms of Reference for the RET review were released, with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane saying the review will consider the contribution of the RET in reducing emissions, its impact on electricity prices and energy markets, as well as its costs and benefits for the renewable energy sector, the manufacturing sector, and Australian households.

‘The Sustainable Energy Association is confident that the review will demonstrate that the benefits of the RET far outweigh the costs, which have been estimated to be less than five percent of an electricity bill.

‘”The RET encourages a diversity of energy sources and encourages us to capitalise on Australia’s natural renewable resources. It is also helping push down the wholesale cost of electricity, which is a positive outcome for everyone, including industry,” Ms Rose said.

‘”We’re looking forward to participating in the Government’s ‘open and transparent’ process,” says Ms Rose. “The renewable energy industry can demonstrate that the RET delivers a powerful outcome: jobs and investment, together with clean energy at lowest cost. That combination of benefits will be particularly attractive to Australians right now.”’

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