Australia’s Clean Energy Innovation Fund – Reactions

Malcolm Turnbull - Clean Energy Innovation Fund

Reactions to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s new $1 Billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund (CEIF) have been somewhat mixed.

As we reported yesterday, the Fund will be run jointly by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and invest up to $100 million per year. The Fund will provide debt and equity through the reallocation of existing CEFC finance.

At a joint press conference with Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt yesterday, Prime Minister Turnbull also announced Coalition policy hostility towards the CEFC and ARENA was over.

“What what (sic) we’re announcing today is that we are retaining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, we’re attaining (sic) both of those agencies,” said PM Turnbull.

The government really didn’t have much of a choice – axing the agencies has already been blocked twice in the Senate.

As for Minister Hunt, who said as recently as Tuesday evening that policy hadn’t changed; he appeared to very happy with the new party attitude and the CEIF.

“This will be investing in storage, in new battery technology, in smart grids, in some of the exciting solar visions that people have hoped for and imagined for Australia but which are only now really becoming reality.”

But not everyone is happy; actually, it seems many aren’t.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten was unsurprisingly unimpressed.

“What we see is Mr Turnbull scrambling with window dressing to pretend that he’s not the same as Mr Abbott,” Mr Shorten said.

The Greens labeled the move a “climate con dressed up as innovation”.

“”The concept of the fund could have some merit but not while it results in a cut to ARENA’s total funding or opening the door to so-called ‘low pollution’ projects like gas,” said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale

The Clean Energy Council, while pleased the CEFC and ARENA are now out of the government’s crosshairs, are disappointed the CEIF comes at the expense of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) ability to provide capital grants for innovative new clean energy projects into the future.

“This is really two steps forward, one step back for clean energy innovation in Australia,” said Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton.

The Australian Solar Council didn’t mince words; accusing the Turnbull government of stripping $1.3 billion from renewables.

“Malcolm Turnbull’s Clean Energy Investment Fund is like an exquisitely decorated Easter Egg. It looks great on the outside, but inside it’s a rotten egg,” it stated.

Solar Citizens was cautious in its appraisal.

“Today’s announcement indicates a positive shift towards clean energy by the Turnbull Government, following years of attacks on the CEFC and ARENA under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott,” Solar Citizens National Director Claire O’Rourke said.

“However we have grave concerns that ARENA’s funding and grant making function will wither under the changes.

A group that appears to be unequivocally ecstatic is RePower Port Augusta; which has been lobbying for a solar thermal plant in the South Australian town for years. At times it must have felt they were whipping a dead horse, but now it seems the project may be a prime candidate for CEIF support.

“With our coal station closing in May building solar thermal with Port Augusta would create badly needed new jobs for our community and on-demand clean, renewable power,” said Repower Port Augusta spokesperson Lisa Lumsde. “This announcement gives real hope for our community going forward.”

As for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation itself, it welcomed the announcement.

“The creation of the CEIF will help innovative entrepreneurial companies build their commercial strength, so they can make a positive contribution to the Australian economy and our national emissions challenge,” stated CEFC CEO Oliver Yates.

ARENA was yet to publish any commentary on its site at the time of writing.