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SA’s leadership on renewable energy threatened: Environmental groups

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Environmental groups say they are concerned and disappointed with newly elected Premier Steven Marshall’s move towards a Federal Government approach to renewable energy.

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In the lead-up to last Saturday’s election, the Liberal Party promised to build a $200 million interconnector with New South Wales, introduce a $100 million subsidy scheme for home solar batteries and remove Labor’s target for 75 per cent renewable energy generation.

The party’s policies have worried some environmentalists, who told InDaily they are concerned the state’s renewable energy sector could go downhill under Marshall’s new government.

“We’ll be cautiously watching Marshall’s movement on energy policy,” SA Conservation Council chief executive Craig Wilkins said.

“Steven Marshall has in the past shown a strong interest in the environment and so there is fertile ground for there to be some policy announcements.

“We were, however, very disappointed that the Marshall Government wanted to scrap the renewable energy target.”

Marshall signalled his government would abolish the state renewable energy target in deference to a national policy, largely based on the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

The guarantee, which would be brought to next month’s COAG meeting, aims to reduce power prices and increase energy reliability using energy produced from coal, gas and pumped hydro. As part of this approach, the Federal Government would also scrap subsidies and incentives for renewables.

Wilkins described the NEG as a “poor” policy for South Australia.

“The only people who would benefit are those working within the fossil fuel industry,” he said.

“It’s worse than doing nothing and it will stop reinvestments in renewable energy infrastructure and increases the price of energy.”

Climate Council acting CEO and head of research Dr Martin Rice said the NEG “threatens” South Australia’s leadership on renewable energy.

“The incoming Marshall Government has requested more information on the National Energy Guarantee, such as modelling, before signing up to the policy,” he said.

“In the Climate Council’s assessment, the NEG is a woefully inadequate response to climate change.”

SA Solar Citizens campaigner Daniel Spencer said the NEG would “throw renewable energy off a cliff.”

“Marshall did hint that he wouldn’t commit to being at the whim of the Federal Government, which is a good sign,” he said.

“From the Federal Government we’ve seen a push back from investment and commitment to improving renewable energy infrastructure but the momentum in South Australia is there.

“The momentum is going to continue in South Australia and the infrastructure is already on the way.”

Marshall responded to environmentalists’ concerns on the NEG, saying in a statement to InDaily that a national approach would provide affordable and reliable power.

“Before the Finkel Review recommended it last year, I urged all the states to agree to a single renewable energy target,” he said.

“We must end states going off on frolics of their own and experimenting with something as vital as affordable and reliable electricity.

“Accordingly, the South Australian Liberal Government will work with the Federal Government and all the other jurisdictions in the national electricity market – Labor and Liberal – to put in place a National Energy Guarantee… offering a future for investment in whatever technology is needed by the market, including renewable energy.”

Environmentalists are divided on Marshall’s $100 million commitment to a household battery fund, which would provide grants averaging $2500 to 40,000 homes to help them buy batteries.

Spencer and the Clean Energy Council told InDaily they encouraged the implementation of the scheme. The Conservation Council’s Craig Wilkins said the Liberals’ promise was inferior to Labor’s Tesla battery deal.

Labor’s plan, announced by former premier Jay Weatherill in February, aimed to install solar panels and Tesla batteries in 50,000 homes, creating what was described as the world’s “largest virtual power plant”.

Yesterday, Marshall brought the future of South Australia’s deal with Tesla into question, after he told ABC’s Radio National it was not part of the Liberal Party’s agenda to equip housing trust properties with Tesla batteries.

The first two stages of the proposal, which included installing batteries and storage units in 1000 housing trust homes, is apparently locked in with a $2 million grant and a $30 million loan.

Marshall later declared he would not rescind contracts entered into by the previous government.

“Marshall’s probably not wanting to be seen as supporting the previous government’s plans but the truth is, it [the Tesla deal] is a really positive policy,” Wilkins said.

“While we do support [the Liberals’] policy and are glad the party has supported household storage, it doesn’t enable the benefits of renewable energy to the people who need it most.

“It’s a general scheme and it tends to be the ones who aren’t in greatest need, those who aren’t low-income earners, who would be able to benefit from reduced power prices.”

The Liberal Party’s energy spokesperson Dan van Holst Pellekaan said in October last year the party’s household battery policy would be means-tested.  

“Making sure lower income households are advantaged by our policy is an incredibly high priority,” he said.

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