Australian renewables compete in carbon tax vacuum

Australian renewables compete in carbon tax vacuum

SYDNEY, July 23 (Xinhua) -- It has been a historic month for Australian -- and international -- carbon cap policy, with Australia becoming the first nation on the planet to can its controversial carbon tax. But, according to Australia's Clean Energy Council (CEC) Wednesday, every sulfuric cloud may have a silver lining.

In what has been a dark month for Australian environmentalists, Australia's Senate voted to scrap the country's maligned carbon tax, 39 to 32. The ongoing Clean Energy Week 2014 is seeing the renewable sector in Sydney fostering new projects, but effectively starting from scratch.

Introduced by Julia Gillard's doomed Labor government in July 2012, the decision to axe the ridiculed 24.15 Australian dollars ( 22.60 U.S. dollars) tax -- a tax based on per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted -- was met with a groan from the environmental left and a burst of applause on the floor of parliament.

But while the decision leaves Australian carbon policy in limbo, the Clean Energy Council on Wednesday launched a project that they hope will "future proof" Australia's energy system and improve electricity grid efficiency to support the growth of clean energy.

Clean Energy Council Acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton said the organization would be incorporating 500,000 Australian dollars (470,000 U.S. dollars) funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to deliver stage one of the project.

The project, titled "Future Proofing in Australia's Electricity Distribution Industry," seeks to identify the challenges facing Australia's ageing electricity systems in the face of continued renewable energy growth and will openly collaborate with "all parts of the energy sector to overcome these challenges."

Undeterred by the environmental and political bloodletting of the last month, Thornton, speaking during the Clean Energy Week Policy and Finance Conference, said Australia was "making great progress as we transform Australia's energy sector and continue to build the clean, renewable energy system of the future."

"But at the same time there are significant economic, regulatory and technical barriers, making it more difficult for newer energy sources to continue to make growing contributions to our power supply."

The Clean Energy Council is the peak body representing Australia's clean energy sector. It is an industry association made up of almost 550 member companies operating in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The Clean Energy Council's members are involved in the development of clean energy technologies such as bioenergy, cogeneration, energy efficiency, geothermal, hydro, solar, solar hot water, marine and wind.

"Australia has a very sophisticated electricity system, but it was originally designed to connect very large remote kinds of power plants -- such as coal in Victoria's Latrobe Valley -- with consumers hundreds of kilometers away."

"Consistent with what is happening across the globe, Australia' s energy system is changing rapidly. We now need it to adapt to accommodate numerous smaller generation sources which are spread out over a wider area, such as solar power and wind farms. This also needs to be adapted with flexible consumption options," Thornton said.

While Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has certainly delivered on his long-standing election promise to rid business of the unpopular carbon tax on emissions, climate campaigners here are keeping the faith that carbon pricing in one form or another is still the only viable option should Australia wish to hit its climate change targets.

But the short-term outlook is grim, almost all conservationists agree.

In disposing of the tax, the Abbott government concurrently repealed Australia's bold commitment to reduce emissions by 2050 by 80 percent.

According to the climate change manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, Victoria McKenzie, Australia's future climate change world will exist within "a very empty landscape."

The Future-proofing in Australia's Distribution Industry project (FPDI) is a collaborative project involving the CEC, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the CEC's members and other key stakeholders.

Australia's Clean Energy Week 2014 is being held across Sydney and runs until 25 July.