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Abbott "bankrupt" of clean energy vision: AMWU

12 August, 2013

The AMWU has joined industry groups and environmental experts warning Australia would lose potential to develop clean industries and thousands of new jobs if Tony Abbott abolishes the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Abbott targeted the CEFC on day one of campaigning, aggressively asking the industry financier to halt operations during the election period because it is a Commonwealth authority.

He made it clear that if he became prime minister he would suspend it on day one before scrapping it as part of his policy to axe the carbon price, which the federal government has already announced it will replace with an emissions trading scheme next year.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is an investment bank set up by the government to provide loans for commercial development of clean technology, energy efficiencies and industries using energy sources such as hydro, wind and solar.

"The CEFC is a necessary initiative because venture capital for all but the largest projects dried up in wake of the Global Financial crisis," Andrew Dettmer, AMWU president, said.

"It provides significant levels of finance for companies and individual entrepreneurs who can present a sound business case for low emission technologies and manufacturing companies.

"It can put Australia at the cutting edge of world industry practice and to suggest it's some kind of extravagance really shows Tony Abbott is bankrupt of vision and foresight. Like carbon emissions, if he can't see it with his own eyes, he won't believe it."

The government has allocated the CEFC $2 billion annually for the next five years.

In May the corporation told the opposition it was in "active discussions" on 50 projects worth $4.6 billion and has so far set aside $500 million for investments in energy efficiency and power generation from solar, wind, landfill and coal mine gases.

Dettmer said most venture capital operated on the basis of around a 50 per cent success rate at best, but the CEFC operated under strict lending rules of providing a return to taxpayers.

"The commercial reality is that large corporations work hand-in-hand with government-sanctioned operations like the CEFC on good, innovative projects that may not be funded if left to the timid investment environment of the post-GFC markets," he said.

"The opposition just don't get it."

Clean energy company Pacific Hydro last week obtained a $60 million loan from the CEFC to develop a 56-megawatt solar photovoltaic energy farm in NSW, to power 15,000 homes around Moree.

Andrew Richards, Head of Government and Corporate Affairs said Pacific Hydro expected any incoming government to honour its legally-enforceable loan agreement, for which CEFC was provided with an Australian Industry Participation Plan.

"It's not a grant, this is a commercial loan," he said. "The CEFC is prepared to back the industry on new-to-market technology which the big four banks may still be a little more cautious in approving.

"It will hopefully encourage more financial market competition among lenders within the clean energy sector."

The board of the Clean Energy Council is expected to discuss the implications of Abbott's stand when it meets this week.

Council deputy CEO Kane Thornton noted both sides of politics supported Australia's Renewable Energy target. It was clear that financing remained an issue in the clean energy sector.

"Established lenders such as the major banks are often reluctant to invest in new technology before it has been fully proven in the local marketplace," he said.

"In discussions we have had with the financial sector, it has been made very clear that some kind of institution that helps to share the risk of investments is helpful in freeing up private sector finance."