Australia has developed a reputation as one of the most progressive democratic nations in the world through its combination of forward-thinking social and economic policies, as well as its multicultural society that has elevated a number of its capital cities to the top of the world’s most livable. The current life expectancy of 82.07 years currently ranks 10th highest in the world, ahead of countries such as Italy, Sweden, Norway, Canada, France, Germany and the United States. And yet despite these impressive indicators of socioeconomic advancement, its energy policies suffered a primitive leap backwards in the past fortnight with a revised outlook for renewable energy that poses a serious threat to the industry’s survival.
As a part of recent cost-cutting measures by the Abbott government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, responsible for the promotion and funding of renewable energy resources in Australia, was abolished altogether. The national renewable energy target proposed for 2020 was also reduced, to the dismay of partnering OECD nations. In addition to the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy, this current stance towards green power is at odds with the wishes of Australian citizens. A recent poll concluded that 87% of Australian citizens want Australia to be a top 10 renewable energy leader in the coming decade. Yet, this action coincided with the implementation of the “fuel tax credit scheme.” A $2 billion per year subsidy to Australia’s largest mining corporations, and part of an overall $10 billion annual subsidy to fossil fuel companies. This scheme eliminates any fuel excises for large mining companies, essentially providing discounted fossil fuels to help huge (already highly profitable) companies extract other fossil fuels. Combine this measure with an increased tax on petroleum for Australian consumers, and commence head scratching over two policies that simultaneously promote and discourage the use of fossil fuels, but inevitably end up favoring the continued extraction (and profit) of fossil fuels. To further illustrate this lunacy, even pro-mining officials are criticizing this waste of public funds. Tony Maher, the national president of the Mining Union was quoted as saying: “I’m pro mining to my core. But a mining sector that grows too fast causes social and economic problems that will cause damage for decades to come…” With the cost of solar hardware falling 60% between Q1 2011 and Q3 2013, there appear to be 10 billion reasons to question this “cost-cutting” initiative.
As this graphic indicates, Australia’s solar potential is enormous. Approximately 85% of Australian citizens live within an hour of the nation’s coastline, which leaves an abundance of open land in the center of the country where the potential for solar power generation is (conveniently) the highest. In order to minimize the environmental impact, non corroding, non polluting photovoltaic cells that consist of 99% beach sand could be installed strategically around the country to provide the energy needs of Australian citizens. In reality, however, a plan to dredge the Great Barrier Reef marine park for coal and gas ports was developed at the appropriately named Abbott Point, which many environmental experts fear could see the dumping of toxic sludge on this already vulnerable natural wonder. With the death of the reef comes not only the loss of a priceless national treasure, but also a loss of tourism revenue in excess of $6.4 billion per annum.
This series of regressive energy policies belies the nation’s innovative and forward-thinking spirit. The economic consequences may prove to be enormous, with the neglect of the renewable energy industry at odds with its rapid growth and expansion all over the world. Even China, who has long been criticized for its environmental apathy, is expected to invest close to half a TRILLION dollars in renewable energy in the next five years. This booming industry will create jobs, prosperity, and reduce foreign dependence on oil, natural gas, and coal. It will also reduce energy costs for consumers in Australia, and all over the world. Hopefully a more progressive stance by an Australian government will be taken on renewable energy in the coming years.