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Leon Delaney interview, Radio 2SM
18 December 2008
DELANEY: Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, good morning.
GARRETT: Good morning Leon.
DELANEY: How are you today?
GARRETT: Im really well thanks.
DELANEY: Thats the way. After the somewhat mixed reception to the white paper on climate change and now todays announcement about the solar subsidy, is the Federal Governments are the Federal Governments environmental credentials in tatters.
GARRETT: Oh no Leon, I dont think so. I think that what weve announced on solar credits is exactly the right thing for the solar industry. It will give it a legislative basis for developing future growth. It takes away the uncertainty that has existed in the past, particularly with the previous government. We had changes to the rebate and the rebate itself, as you know, is now means tests and is fully acquitted. This provides the opportunity for upfront assistance to be given not only to households but also to communities, to business groups, for the new small scale solar systems and it is consistent with the kind of messages that I got when I went around he country from NGOs and from the industry itself about being able to plan with a great degree of certainty for the future. So, given that we have put more solar panels on roofs than any previous government, given that weve got 3000 applications for the National Solar Schools program and that we have got a low interest green home loan scheme coming plus solar credits, this is delivering on solar.
DELANEY: The subsidy when you introduced the means testing for that, again that was a measure that was widely criticised as hindering the expansion of the solar industry and undermining its viability. The industry representatives today seem to be welcoming the change that you have announced as being an improvement but it is still not what they want and the reporting in the press would indicate that individual rebates or individual sums of subsidy will fall, with the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that someone putting in a solar panel in Sydney is likely to get about $4000 instead of $8000, so how does that help?
GARRETT: Well firstly on the Sydney Morning Herald, they have got it actually wrong this morning, Leon. It is $7500 and it is a significant delivery of assistance for people to get you know, a renewable system up and running in their house.
On the question of the earlier criticism from the Opposition on the means test decision that the Government took on the rebates, I have got to say here that the Opposition cry out very loud, criticise the Government intensely and get it wrong as well. At the time that Mr Hunt, the Opposition Shadow Minister was jumping out of a plane with a parachute saying that the solar industry was in freefall the actual figures, and they came out in the Estimates Committee hearings, showed that applications for solar panels were heading to an all time high. Look, under the previous Government, when they went to their last budget the applications were around 30 a week, theyre now running close to 1000 a week. We will have doubled the number of panels on roofs over the period of time of 18 months. Originally that was going to be done in eight years.
The fact is that if we want to have a sustainable future for renewables in the longer term, we need to make sure that there is a legislative backing, that we have solar credits that operate in a way which weve designed it, in other words it is open to all households, all business, all community groups and given that weve had significant delivery over time but at the same time quite clearly had to bring forward the necessary budgeting for the rebate. This will make sure that they have got long term legislative support for the solar industry.
DELANEY: The suggestion has been made that this particular move, although it will increase the likelihood of individual take up of solar photovoltaic panels in households and small businesses, it reduces the opportunity for investment in larger scale projects.
GARRETT: Well again, I think that is wrong. I think that people dont really fully understand the scheme or what we are putting forward. I mean a Renewable Energy Target of 20% renewable energy delivery by 2020 is over four times, or around four times, what was the previous case. And there will be significant, significant opportunities for larger scale renewable projects to drive through the new renewable target. I dont think there is any doubt about that whatsoever. I mean weve also seen the bring forward of the Renewable Energy Fund by the Government so that $500 million Renewable Energy Fund will be brought forward for expensing as well.
There will be more support for solar, by the Government than by any previous Government. There will be more opportunities for the development of the renewable energy industry both through the Renewable Energy Target and also through the bring forward of the $500 million for the Renewable Energy Fund, than at any time in our previous history. And at the same time as that were actually providing an opportunity for people to get the upfront assistance that they need to be able to put in place either a solar system, a wind, small wind turbine, or even a hydro system. And it provides confidence for the industry that in the long term, everybody will be in the mix, wanting to get these renewable systems in their houses. And it provides a sustainable growth path for them to build on.
I mean at the end of the day, mate, it you go onto a website now you can see systems being advertised for about a grand, maybe a little more maybe a little bit less than the rebate. I know that the solar industry doesnt consider itself an industry that in the longer term has to rely on a total rebate subsidy for sustainability. Our intention is to provide a platform for the industry to grow over time and ultimately for it to become competitive with other renewable energy technologies as I am sure it will.
DELANEY: Will the Government be introducing a feed-in tariff for people who are generating their own electricity and the excess is pumped back into the grid. Will they get paid for it?
GARRETT: Well, the Commonwealths view was made clear in the guidelines that we put out, I think last week Leon on that. And that is that there will be guidelines, national guidelines, but there will not be a national feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariffs can and will operate at the state level. Some states will have a kind of feed-in tariff which provides people with that opportunity but it is something which will operate through the jurisdictions and the Commonwealth has put out the guidelines to that effect.
I mean, at the end of the day, our commitment on National Solar Schools - $500 million with a significant component of that for solar low interest green home loans giving people the opportunity to borrow to put the good renewable technologies in their homes including things like solar panels etc, and also the solar credits around $7500 at current levels for the 1.5 kilowatt systems and by doing that providing an overall growth platform for the industry. There will be other measures, such as feed-in tariffs that operate at the state level and also different subsidies that happen at local council level in different states. But the totality of the support that the Rudd Government is giving is larger than any Government has given for the solar industry over time.
DELANEY: Peter Garrett, thanks very much for your time today.
GARRETT: Thanks Leon