Changes to the Renewable Energy Target that slash real renewables by 20 per cent and allow the burning of native forests for electricity mark a shameful backward step on the road to a cleaner Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.

The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 passed the Senate late last night, 41 votes to 14, slashing Australia’s renewable energy target from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 and allowing for native forest wood to be burned for electricity and included in the target.

In a deal with four crossbench Senators the Government also agreed to set up a ‘wind farm commissioner’.

“If the RET had been allowed to do its job Australians would have had about a quarter of our electricity coming from clean energy sources like wind and solar by 2020,” said ACF’s Victoria McKenzie-McHarg.

“The winners from this reduced target are the operators of old, inefficient coal-fired power stations and companies that want to generate electricity by burning native forests.

“The introduction of a ‘wind commissioner’ adds a completely unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the development of wind power, which is already the most over-studied and over-regulated energy source in Australia.

“There is a much stronger case for a ‘coal commissioner’, considering the known health impacts from mining, transporting and burning coal, not to mention the health problems that result when a coal mine catches fire, as happened 18 months ago at the Hazelwood mine in Victoria.

“The potential for renewables in Australia is massive. Analysis of data from the Energy Supply Association Australia shows wind and solar projects already identified could provide a quarter of Australia’s forecast electricity demand by 2023-24.

“Clean energy is popular and its growth is inevitable, but this RET cut will make that growth slower and more difficult,” she said.

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