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Renewable energy investment crippled by carbon tax repeal

Australia is perfectly placed to surf the wave of renewable energy. It’s a continent-sized solar panel, blown by wind, surrounded by waves, and studded with communities whose reaction to the technology of the future would be “Yes please, when can we start, shipping in gas is a pain in the thing that rhymes with gas”.

Unfortunately recent government rulings have decided to throw renewable energy into reverse gear, stamp on it and throw the wreckage into a coal-burning furnace.

The government’s latest attempt to be retroactively cast as Captain Planet villains is the repeal of the carbon tax. For the last two years this tax has charged the heaviest polluters for every tonne of greenhouse gas produced, and helped fund the (doomed) Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

It was a direct statement of intent aimed at only thing a corporation listen to: its bottom line. A line that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has now backed away from, bowing, scraping, and burning small scented lumps of coal in apology.

Abbott’s new plan is to spend $2.5 billion of taxpayer money asking the corporations if they wouldn’t mind maybe trying to be a bit cleaner. He claims that this is “great news for Australian families”, assuming your family won’t have any great-great-grandchildren, or that they’re planning on evolving into melanin-skinned dolphins extremely quickly.

He’s also assuming your family doesn’t care about Australian research and investment. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance study shows that investment in Australian renewable energy has dropped. Hell, it’s evaporated.

It went from $2.7 billion in 2013 to $40 million in 2014 so far. That’s two orders of magnitude. That’s annihilation.

Solar Reserve, one of the world’s most advanced solar power companies, has already scrapped plans for solar-powered mining systems. Chief executive Kevin Smith told the ABC, “Other markets around the world are advancing. Australia is going to get left behind.”

Billing a company for polluting pushes them to find alternate energy sources, because ‘minimising losses’ is what corporations do instead of breathing. But paying them not to pollute makes it a profit choice: do they make more money by staying as they are, or researching an installing entirely new systems?

The answer will always be the former, and even if they do play with other power systems, they’ll only pay as much as they’re getting from the government. Which means Abbott’s plan doesn’t motivate corporate renewable energy research, it just gives those corporations the chance to take a tithe from unofficial government research grants.

Abbott’s core complaint was that the carbon tax cost businesses money. Apparently you’re allowed to make urgent changes to defend the future of the planet, but only if they appear out of thin air and require no effort of any kind.

Unfortunately his party has the power (with help from the surely unbiased Palmer United We Like Mining party). So if those great-great-grandchildren we mentioned want us to think about them, they’d better build a way to send ballots back through time. And hope their time machine works when bathed in ultraviolet, and underwater.

About the author

Luke McKinney is a columnist for Cracked.com, CBS, and RETRO magazine, and a gun for hire.

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