Australian trade body warns thousands of jobs could be lost if renewables target is scrapped

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The abolition of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) could lead to the loss of almost 7,000 jobs, according to an industry body.

The REC Agents Association (RAA), an industry body responsible for assisting and overseeing companies trading in renewable energy certificates in Australia, issued a press release that quoted “detailed analysis” by Australian company Solar Business Services. The analysis was commissioned by RAA member Greenbank Environmental.

RAA claims that the Australian solar industry is expected to employ around 12,300 people across 4,300 businesses domestically in 2014. If the RET is cut entirely, up to 6,750 jobs could be lost by 2018, according to RAA.

The Solar Business Services report outlined forecasts for three possible scenario projections to 2018, the first being no policy change; the second detailing possible consequences of cuts to the RET and the third scenario based on abolition of the RET.

According to Solar Business Services and RAA, a ‘no policy change’ scenario is predicted to mean the addition of 8,000 jobs in the Australian solar industry in the four years between 2014 and 2018.

Predicted job losses in a forecast scenario where the RET is abolished this year would be immediate, with around 2,000 of the potential 6,750 jobs lost being cut in 2015.

The RET, set at 20% of electricity generation by 2020, has different criteria for large- and small-scale schemes.

RAA said: “Changes to the RET have the single largest impact on expected market uptake, particularly if it is abolished completely and early.”

The employment forecasts were derived from historical employment numbers, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and analysis by Solar Business Services.

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbot suggested in 2013 that support for renewable energy measures including RET would be under review this year, citing the need to lower consumer electricity prices.

Solar Business Services said that analysis of other energy industry sectors in Australia including coal and nuclear got ‘funding from government for operational costs’ which was described as including 'capital grants, and low interest or interest free loans made by government to businesses to encourage expenditure on specific equipment’ worth almost AUS$5 billion (US$4.4 billion) between 2008 and 2012.

The vast majority of solar PV generation in Australia comes from rooftops with over 3.14GW installed by the beginning of this year, while the utility scale market has been slower to take off with very few large projects already connected. However a pipeline of large scale projects exists, including a 102MW First Solar power station in Nyngan, New South Wales which began construction this week.

First Solar vice president for the Asia Pacific region, Jack Curtis, said: “Breaking ground at the Nyngan solar project is a significant milestone for the advancement of Australia's utility-scale solar industry. Each project that First Solar constructs builds acceptance of and confidence in utility-scale solar as an effective source of power generation in Australia.”

Projects for which investment and funding is already in place are not expected to have support cut.

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