A peak solar energy body is threatening to sue the Australian government for allowing its renewable agency to bankroll fossil fuel projects backed by carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The Smart Energy Council has accused the government of forcing the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to contradict its very purpose after legislation passed this week granting it the power to fund coal and gas alongside CCS.
“This has been an ideological attack from the outset, and you’ve just got to call it for what it is,” Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes told the Australian Associated Press.
“It contravenes the Act; the Act is really clear about the definition of renewable energy,” Grimes said.
Section 8A of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011 outlines that ARENA is to provide financial assistance for research, development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies.
Grimes suggested that the possible breach in definitions could be grounds to take the government to court.
“We are absolutely right now talking to legal representatives, and our intention is if it has a good prospect of success, we would launch legal action.”
However, section 8G defines ARENA’s functions to also include “any other functions conferred on ARENA by this Act or any other Commonwealth law,” potentially absolving the new federal legislation.
The 2020-21 federal budget (pdf) had already banked on expanding the remit after it allocated $1.6 billion to ARENA in support of the Technology Investment Roadmap—a plan to lower emissions through new technologies, such as CCS.
CCS—the process of capturing carbon dioxide and piping the emissions into underground reservoirs—has been championed by Energy Minister Angus Taylor to facilitate emissions reduction in hard-to-abate industries, such as steel and aluminium production.
Taylor has also proposed using the technology in the production of hydrogen at a globally competitive price point—something yet to be achieved in green hydrogen using solely renewable energy and water.
“The IEA (International Energy Agency) and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) both regard carbon capture technologies as essential to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Taylor previously said.
Mining peak body Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) backed the move, saying that it agreed with a path to meet climate commitments through low-emission technologies.
“The confirmation in the Senate of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) expanded regulations to stand will significantly benefit Australia’s decarbonisation efforts,” MCA CEO Tania Constable said in a media release.
“It is also consistent with the Australian minerals industry’s advocacy for all technologies to be considered in meeting the challenge of lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”
But environmental groups erupted over the new legislation, including the Climate Council who argued that the renewables agency should be banned from funding non-renewable industries.
“The nation’s renewable energy agency should not be spending money earmarked for renewables on CCS technology,” said Climate Council member and former ARENA chair, Greg Bourne.
“CCS is expensive, unlikely to be effective, and the industry has always over-promised and under-delivered,” Bourne said. ‘“Gas is also a fossil fuel that powerfully drives climate change, and hydrogen from gas has no place in Australia’s zero emissions energy future.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt was angered by the outcome, accusing the federal government of being influenced by coal and gas lobbyists.
“This regulation is unlawful, and the government is just trying to deliver for fossil fuel donors,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.
“If minister Taylor thinks this is over, he is wrong.”