A planned 1,200-megawatt wind farm in the north of Australia may never be built after Prime Minister Tony Abbott launched what has been described as a ‘war on renewables.’
The $2bn Kennedy Energy Park, the biggest wind and solar plant to be built in the country, will likely struggle to find funding after Abbott ordered the government’s $7.45bn Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to stop investing in wind and solar farms.
Conservative Abbott has been known as a vocal opponent of renewable energy and previously described wind farms as ‘ugly’ and ‘noisy’. Australia has one of the highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in the world.
The anti-wind farm decree could stop the CEFC, established by the previous Labour government, from providing early-stage finance for the Kennedy Energy Park in Queensland and thus making it less attractive for private financiers, said Roger Price, head of Canberra-based Windlab, the company behind the project.
"If they're not there, it doesn't mean it can't get done, but I will tell you it'll be harder," Windlab Chief Executive Officer Roger Price told Reuters on the sidelines of a clean energy conference in Sydney.
"Every deal takes a lot of work. Having them support a project would ultimately make other finance [easier to secure]. People are happy to invest or commit alongside [an existing investor]."
The Kennedy Energy Park, if built, would be one of the world's 10 biggest renewable energy plants, providing about 80 per cent of local energy supply. For Abbott, this is an undesirable development, as he instead openly supports coal-fired electricity generation. Earlier this month, Abbott gave clearance to China’s Shenhua Energy to build a A$1bn coal mine on what used to be prime agricultural land.
His stance is in sharp contrast to most other major economies - the US and China included - which have pledged to step up efforts to combat climate change. Abbott decreased Australia’s Renewable Energy Target by 20 per cent last month.
"I honestly believe that this is ideological," said Samantha Hepburn, a law professor at Deakin University, noting that Abbott's government effectively subsidises fossil fuel companies.
Legal experts have also suggested Abbott's directive goes beyond the bounds of ministerial intervention allowed in the CEFC, given the financing agency comes with defined investment guidelines that appear to include wind farms.
The CEFC has "a pretty clear mandate to invest in established, successful renewable energy technology like wind and solar", said Tim Stephens, a professor of international law at the University of Sydney.
"This new directive telling the body not to invest in wind farms or solar possibly could be challenged," added Stephens.
CEFC Chief Executive Officer Oliver Yates told Reuters that he was seeking legal advice before formally responding to Abbott about the anti-wind farm directive, declining to comment on whether he would challenge it.
"It's a new organisation, it's new to the government, it's not surprising," said Yates, referring to his organisation.