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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Solar hot water rebate; Rheem's United Nations contract; solar hot water industry; renewable energy; Mt Barker windfarm; Christmas Island; Roe Highway Stage 8; Solar Credits

Doorstop interview Rheem Australia "Solahart" hot water factory, Whelshpool, Perth
22 April 2009

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GARRETT: [RECORDING FAILED]...this manufacturing installation, to get a good sense from Managing Director Matt Sexton of the kind of growth that is being experienced by Rheem here and to see what positive effects the Government's decisions in the Energy Efficient Homes Plan to provide for a $1600 rebate for solar hot water systems is having on this industry.

We're seeing more people employed permanently, we're seeing an increase in shifts in this factory and the multiplier effect in the economy that comes as a result of that is yet again a vindication of the correctness of the decision that was taken by this Government earlier in this space.

It is also I think a tremendous vindication of the work that has been done by Solahart as a part of this enterprise here given that they have now received a significant contract - a $7 million contract from the United Nations - for solar hot water systems to go into these housing packages that get located in different parts of the world. That is a really, really positive and I think very, very good initiative by the UN and I am absolutely delighted that it will be Australian solar hot water systems that will be providing hot water for people where the UN decides to put in its housing.

Look, the second thing I want to say is that we are very clear that we have the right policy settings in place to see an increase in solar hot water around this country, that we recognise that a healthy manufacturing industry is absolutely essential to sustainable economic growth and that we now have 11,000 applications for the solar hot water rebate - a very strong and positive signal that Australian's are embracing this technology and taking up the Government's policy announcements with great gusto.

So, it is a good day in the midst of very, very challenging economic times to see these policy settings actually out there and doing the job that they were intended to do.

JOURNALIST: That said it was said that only 7 per cent of Australians actually have a solar hot water system, I mean, is the take up too slow?

GARRETT: Well look, I think that we are going to see a significant uptake in the future and the sort of information that I heard from Solahart, from Rheem today, is that they are expecting a great deal more growth. And you would have heard the Managing Director Matt Sexton himself say that he is expecting that rollout to increase significantly over time and that will be a good thing.

JOURNALIST: Is there more the Government can do about educating people about the benefits of solar power?

GARRETT: Well I think that people have got a pretty good idea about how positive it is to have solar hot water systems. The fact that we have seen an absolutely extraordinary number of applications - I mean 11,000 applications in the period since the announcement was made - is the surest sign ever that Australians are ready, willing and able to embrace solar hot water. They know that it makes a difference to greenhouse gas emissions and I think that we're just going to see an increase in the tempo of activity over time.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that the economic crisis may turn some people off?

GARRETT: Well a $1600 rebate is a significant rebate and this is a product which has proved incredibly durable over time. I mean I do want to acknowledge that for an Australian piece of technology to provide solar hot water to be taken on by the United Nations for deployment in a range of different circumstances and locations, with different weather conditions and the like, is a very, very strong vote of confidence in what is being produced in this place and in others. So I think Australians are very, very keen on getting solar hot water systems on their roof and we are providing them with the means to do it.

JOURNALIST: If this is the way of the future, why aren't we seeing more companies like Solahart around Australia?

GARRETT: Well we have got a pretty significant solar hot water system industry here. I mean there is another facility here in Western Australia, we've got a facility in Rydalmere in New South Wales, and they are producing pretty significant volumes of solar hot water systems and I think that we should recognise that this is an industry which the innovation and instigation of which started here in this city. It has been one of the success stories of Australian manufacturing and the policy settings that we have put in place will enable this industry to build on what is a very strong foundation. And additionally - the additional point I would make - is that planning approvals processes local environment planning processes and state planning processes in terms of requirements for more energy efficient housing and like will also see solar hot water systems more greatly used in the future.

JOURNALIST: Under the new rebate at the current prices, how much would a household get for installing a large PV array?

GARRETT: Well, a PV array is slightly different from a solar hot water system, but you will get a $1600 rebate from the Commonwealth for a solar hot water system and then in different jurisdictions there are other rebates that are on offer from different states. I don't want to go through each state one by one... other than to say that in some states the kind of investment that people would make in solar hot water is either an equivalent or a better investment than they would make for other means of producing hot water. And given the fact that you have got emissions reductions, given that you have got significant longevity in the system I think that we are going to see increasing uptake over time.

JOURNALIST: Other energy experts have said that solar energy is a bit of a pet project for the Government and that they should be spending their money on developing other energy efficient, you know, other ways like wind. You have got the new funding for the windfarm here in WA, have you got anything else that is coming out?

GARRETT: Look can I make one very key point about this and that is that we had a pretty vigorous debate early and in the middle of last year about the state of the solar industry and at that time the Coalition and others made a series of claims which were shown to be completely wrong.
They said that the solar industry was in freefall. In fact the figures very quickly showed that the opposite was happening - that the solar industry was actually experiencing record increase. And that will continue to happen certainly through the solar hot water industry but through the solar industry generally. And the reason or that is that we will see increasing uptake in solar PV's with a renewable energy target of 20 per cent of renewable energy by 2020 to be brought into place as policy, but especially because under the new renewable energy arrangements that we are proposing, people will have the opportunity to either put solar PV's or wind or even in those locations that allow it, small scale domestic hydro systems in. So that means that you have got a choice of technologies you can take advantage of if you want to get into renewable energy and my very strong surmise is that Australian's will take up those opportunities very, very rapidly.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell as about the funding for the wind farm at Mt Barker?

GARRETT: Well, this is funding which comes through our Remote Renewable Power Generation Program. It will be driven through the state processes. What I would say is that we have got some 50 wind farms, approximately, now in operation around Australia. Under the renewable energy target I expect that wind will play a fairly significant role in terms of uptake in terms of producing more renewable energy. This is a windfarm which produces a fair amount of energy by the way - 8000 megs (megawatt hours) is a good strong size. There are a couple of other winds farms that are in the process of coming through to me for me for consideration, I think a couple of them in Tasmania, but Western Australia is a wind rich state, in some parts of the state, so I hope we'll see more.

JOURNALIST: And that energy produced at the Mt Barker windfarm will go back directly into that area, is that correct that it will be used to power Mt Barker or...?

GARRETT: Well my understanding is that it will be used to produce energy for consumption in that area. If they have got surplus, who knows, it will go into the grid. I don't know precisely the details of where it is intended to go but that is an 8000 meg, so it will be used there, that would be my very, very strong feeling.

JOURNALIST: And I understand that you have just been to Christmas Island. There has been an application there to extend the life of a phosphate mine that was turned down by the last government. Have you had any new thoughts about that would you consider the extension of that application?

GARRETT: Look I had the opportunity to visit Christmas Island and we had a fairly exhaustive tour of the Island itself. So I had a look at the mining operations and also a number of issues - there is a big National Park on the Island - and I met with the mine there. I'll now consider their submission. There is no proposal that has come to me formally from the Department - I haven't received that advice yet - but I'll spend some time considering that when I get back to Canberra.

JOURNALIST: I understand there are two endangered species there - a bird and a bat. Are you particularly concerned about them there?

GARRETT: Look I am very concerned about the status of our environment on Christmas Island generally. Islands are particularly vulnerable locations for endemic species when you do have either landscape change, climate change or shifts in the ecology of islands and we have had that at Christmas Island. I have got an expert working group who is bringing me back a series of reports on the pipistrelle bat but I have every expectation that on the basis of the briefing I received of the National Park - or Parks Australia officers there- that we'll also be getting additional information about both birds and also lizards and other species.

It is an extraordinary environment Christmas Island. It is recognised as being one of the most distinctive and unique environments in the world but particularly because of the presence of the large crazy ant colonies there, the environment is under significant stress and pressure and so we will be turning our minds to both the proposal from Christmas Island phosphate buy also to the necessary kind of measures that we need to address those challenges when I get back to Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the State Government plans to go ahead with stage
8 of the Roe Highway which would go through the north and North Lake and Bibra Lake. Save Beeliar Wetlands have contacted you about that.
you had anymore thoughts just about your views on that?

GARRETT: Look this isn't a Ramsar listed wetland. I am aware of this report. It hasn't yet been referred to me formally. My expectation is that it will be referred to me to consider but until such time as that formal referral takes place then I wouldn't have anything additional to add.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just under the new rebate which comes into effect later this year, it has been said that lower income families will receive less of a rebate under that new system? Is that not really fair?

GARRETT: The $1600 rebate for solar hot water systems certainly doesn't discriminate against lower income - people have the opportunity and have access to that rebate. For the renewable energy certificate multiplier for solar PV's, the provision there is for a significant amount for the installation for solar PV's but it does depend on where you live in Australia. So for example in Western Australia which is a state which generally receives particularly high levels of solar radiation then the expectation would be that the amount received for the credit would be on the higher end - around the $7500 mark or even higher. Now the solar PV systems that we're seeing come into play both manufactured here but more importantly the ones that are coming in - being exported into the country - are not much more expensive than that. So I think given that you have then got the opportunity to produce your own electricity over time, everybody has an opportunity to get into solar and that has always been the Government's intention.


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