Legal boost for Australian market

AUSTRALIA: The Australian renewable energy sector has received a welcome boost after lawmakers approved amendments to legislation aimed at spurring renewable energy investments.

The amendments to the renewable energy target (RET) scheme that were made in late June aim to offer greater investment certainty to large-scale renewables projects, such as wind farms, as well as ensuring that support to households for small-scale renewables remains in place.

The RET scheme, introduced last year, set a mandatory target to source 20% of Australia's national power needs from renewable sources by 2020. But by including solar hot water, heat pumps and rooftop solar credits in that 20% target, critics argued that the government had pushed down the price of renewable energy certificates - which offer a reimbursement for every MWh of excess green electricity produced - preventing industrial-scale renewable energy projects from taking off.

The amendments passed by the Senate, Australia's upper house, will split the RET into two parts from January 1, 2011 - the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) and the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET).

The LRET, covering large-scale renewable energy projects such as wind farms, commercial solar and geothermal, will deliver the majority of the 2020 target at around 41,000GWh. The SRES will provide a set level of support to the roll-out of small-scale technologies.

Australian Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said the reforms would unlock more than A$20 billion (US$1,735 billion) in investment in major generation projects while creating a stable growth path for household-scale technologies.

"It is rewarding to see all sides of politics come together to deliver and enhance these important reforms that will underpin the creation of a world-class Australian clean energy industry this century," he says. "This completes a first important step forward in decarbonising energy in Australia. It is now important for the industry to get on with the job."

Following the passage of the legislation, AGL Energy announced it would now fast-track plans for its proposed A$800 million (US$694 million) Macarthur wind farm, which, when completed, will be one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. The project had been on hold prior to the law changes.