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‘I’m glad we’re killing it’: Labor scraps renewable energy subsidy schemes

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Two programs designed to encourage broader take-up of renewable energy options have been binned by the Malinauskas Government, saving $19 million in tomorrow’s state budget.

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Energy minister Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily the Home Battery Scheme and Switch for Solar programs, both initiatives of the Marshall Liberal government, would be axed.

He said the former was “just not working” while the latter – which allows eligible concession-holders to exchange a decade of energy and cost of living concessions for a solar panel installation – was “an appalling policy [and] I’m glad we’re killing it”.

But Opposition Leader David Speirs – the former Environment minister – said Labor was “seeking to axe two programs that have a practical impact on lowering emissions in South Australia”.

Labor wants to rein in spending after an election campaign with a wealth of commitments – the lion’s share in health – and interest rates on the rise with a budget already heavily in debt.

Koutsantonis insists the much-vaunted Home Battery subsidy – which had bipartisan support and won plaudits from green groups – has “failed to get anywhere close to hitting its targets… with minimum uptake and follow-through”.

The subsidies for home battery installation have been steadily wound back, from a cap of $6000 to $2000 currently, with the Government insisting the scheme “has not even reached half of its targeted 40,000 homes”.

“The $19 million from the program will be reallocated towards expanding state’s the hospital system,” Koutsantonis said.

“It’s a scheme that’s just not working – you can’t accelerate the uptake as batteries get more expensive by decreasing the subsidy… it’s obvious you could never meet the target.

“It didn’t work – the market signals weren’t working, there wasn’t sufficient money left to meet the target… you’d have to put more resources in to make a failed policy work – that’s crazy.”

He said “if it was working, there’d be 40,000 home batteries”.

The scheme, however, has been mirrored in policy initiatives by Labor, with former federal leader Bill Shorten adopting a similar subsidy scheme in his failed 2019 campaign.

But Koutsantonis insists “you’ve got to reach a point where you say ‘this has failed so we’re getting out’”.

He was more aggressive about the solar scheme, which he slammed as an “appalling policy, to have pensioners and people on low incomes give up government concessions in exchange for solar installations”.

“We should let them decide how this money is spent,” he said.

“This was a cost-saving measure to try and get people off their concessions – I’m glad we’re killing it.”

He denied the move signalled a shift away from renewable energy programs, saying: “We’re focussing on hydrogen jobs policy and large scale renewables.”

He said Labor wanted to install “more wind farms” and more large-scale solar projects.

However, Conservation Council SA CEO Craig Wilkins called the decision to axed the home uptake programs “very disappointing”.

He said even if the incentive level was “still not quite there”, the program showed that “these kinds of supports aimed at households are really beneficial and effective at increasing uptake”.

He said the battery scheme was designed to generate a critical mass of home battery users that would help trigger broader flow-on investment.

“This feels like a premature axing of some very valuable programs,” he said.

Speirs told InDaily that “just one day” after a parliamentary motion declaring a Climate Emergency, “the Malinauskas Government is seeking to axe two programs that have a practical impact on lowering emissions in South Australia”.

“Again, this shows that the Government is more interested in empty gestures and symbolic rhetoric rather than getting on with the job by transitioning South Australian households to renewables,” he said.

“On top of this, these two programs contribute to lower cost of living at a time when many South Australians, particularly those living on concessions, are fearful of soaring electricity prices – which we know are on the way.

“Once again, we see the Malinauskas Government’s priorities being all over the place when it comes to sensible environmental policy.”

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