Australian wind in danger again -- Calls for climate strategy rethink

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Shimmering in the heat of Australia's climate change debate, the government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) -- including a 20% by 2020 mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) and an emissions trading scheme (ETS) -- is quickly becoming a legislative mirage. Scheduled to start in mid-2010, the CPRS is nearing its June deadline for passage into law, but the opposition parties, the Liberals, Greens and independents, are still united in their opposition to the Labor-led federal government's plan, albeit for almost diametrically opposed reasons.

If the CPRS fails to gain support, wind plant totalling thousands of megawatts, reliant on the new MRET being implemented, are likely to be put on hold. Under the federal plan, the MRET will increase from 9500 GWh by 2010 to 45,000 GWh by 2020, requiring around 10 GW of new renewables capacity. Wind power would account for 50% of the increase to 2020. But the MRET's success is bound up with the CPRS.

The Greens say the CPRS does not go far enough and should set higher emission reduction targets for industry. The Liberals says it goes too far and are calling for more free "offset" pollution permits to be granted to energy intensive companies. Crucial in the balance is independent senator Nick Xenophon, who says an ETS is simply the wrong idea, calling instead for a carbon tax. "I can not see the ETS getting up in its current form," says Xenophon, although the South Australian senator is famous for his horse-trading on big issues.

Internal opposition

Even Professor Ross Garnaut, the government's own climate adviser responsible for producing the report on which it based the CPRS, has joined the chorus of opposition. It might be better to dump the current plan and "do a better one when time is right," Garnaut told a Senate committee recently, suggesting the right time may be after the UN climate change conference taking place in Copenhagen in December.

The embattled climate change minister, Penny Wong, is furious, suggesting those opposing the legislation could undermine the entire Copenhagen deal and harm Australia's long term economic interests. "There is no going back to the drawing board," she says. "There can be no more wasted years." Without the support of the Greens and the independents, the plan cannot become law. Greenpeace puts the odds of the legislation being voted down at 50:50. Australia's peak renewables industry body, the Clean Energy Council, was unavailable for comment.

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