First Solar points finger at government as it reconsiders Australia PV projects

  • Australia's Liberal Party government, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has been a thorn in the side of the PV market.
    Australia's Liberal Party government, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has been a thorn in the side of the PV market. Image: Flickr/Global Panorama.

A review conducted by the Australian government regarding the country’s renewable energy targets has potentially put multiple PV projects at risk, according to a senior executive at First Solar.

The thin-film manufacturer has now said that it is reconsidering all future projects in Australia going forward, listing increasingly uncertain government policies as the driving factor in this potential decision. ;

Jack Curtis, First Solar’s vice-president for business development told the Sydney Morning Herald that around AUS$90-110 million (US$84-102 million) worth of the PV company’s projects in Australia have been put on hold.

“We don't have a great line of sight as to where the next round of projects is coming from, largely as a function of the uncertainty in the policy backdrop,” Curtis said. 

He added: ''We are not saying 'support solar...and we'll keep saying thanks'. What we are saying that there is a very credible path given the cost reduction demonstrated by the solar industry that it can get to a point where it is a sustainable industry.''

Australia had set a renewable energy goal of sourcing 41,000 GWh of from renewable energy by 2020, but that objective is now being questioned after the government appointed Dick Warburton, a former Reserve Bank member and climate change sceptic, to head the review.

Curtis said that the projects that First Solar has already put on hold mostly revolve around the mining sector, helping corporations with off-grid operations. These projects have an economic multiplier effect of 1.5x, so for every AUS$1 (US$0.93) that the government spends on these projects, AUS$1.50 (US$1.40) is put back into the economy.

“[The federal government] obviously has a tight fiscal outlook that they have to manage and we are sympathetic of that,” Curtis said. “But if their other industries that are on the up and up that can generate a 1.5 multiplier for every $1 the government invested, I'd like to hear about them because I think that's a pretty good positive return on the allocation of government funds.''

Australia’s PV sector has taken a hit since the formation of Abbott’s Liberal Party government in September 2013.

The government is currently trying to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a state-backed financing vehicle. As of now, the government has not been able to pass the legislation necessary to go ahead with the abolition. 

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